Bewley Homes’ appeal against Waverley Borough Council’s refusal of planning consent for 140 homes on a greenfield site at Lower Weybourne Lane, in the gap between Farnham and Aldershot bordering Badshot Lea, was thrown out on Monday.
But it was a close call – after inspector Lesley Coffey confirmed Waverley has fallen behind on government housing targets and is only currently able to demonstrate a 4.99-year supply of housing land – a fraction below the five years required for the borough’s Local Plan to carry full weight.
This deficiency would usually be cause enough for an inspector to apply the National Planning Policy Framework’s ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, and allow such an application to help meet housing demand.
But on this occasion, the inspector noted the revised Farnham Neighbourhood Plan, which excludes Lower Weybourne Lane as a potential housing site, had been adopted only in April 2020 – and so remains an up-to-date policy document, even if the borough’s Local Plan is not.
It spells danger for the rest of Waverley, however, limiting the borough council’s ability to contest appeals in areas not covered by an adopted and up-to-date neighbourhood plan, such as Haslemere.
And Farnham’s grace period will end too – and the floodgates to speculative development could reopen – in April 2022, unless Waverley can improve housing supply and adopt Part Two of its Local Plan, setting out preferred sites for hundreds of new homes, before that date.
But for now at least, the Lower Weybourne Lane decision is being celebrated by those who have fought since 2011 for the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan to play an active role in the planning process.
David Howell, former chairman of The Farnham Society planning committee, described the dismissal as “absolutely terrific news”, adding it “restores some faith in the inspectorate’s decision-making abilities”.
He warned it may not yet be the end of the matter, with Bewley Homes unlikely to give up hopes of securing some housing on the site. But he stressed: “The decision illustrates the overwhelming importance of our Neighbourhood Plan.”
Mr Howell added delays to Waverley’s Local Plan Part Two could cost both town and borough, with the document still needing to be inspected and adopted before it holds weight.
“It is likely it is going to be later summer or the autumn of 2022 before that it is adopted, leaving the town very exposed,” he said.