Just as we were all rushing to complete the final tasks for Christmas, Michael Gove gave Farnham a small but very welcome gift, by publishing the long-awaited update to the National Planning Policy Framework on December 19.

As residents know, the Liberal Democrats’ record on planning at Waverley remains woeful. They have failed to maintain a five-year housing land supply and have left the whole borough at risk from speculative development.

Furthermore, in February 2023, the Liberal Democrats, backed, as always, by the Farnham Residents, also voted to rewrite the current Local Plan and to send the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan back to the drawing board.

Many of us, who have worked hard for years to deliver 3,005 dwellings in Farnham, on carefully selected sites, have also been lobbying both Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove to create more respect for neighbourhood planning in the NPPF.

Site-selection for the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan was robust. It was supported at examination and referendum and tested in the courts. Sites were assessed for their importance to landscape and the migration of species, flood risk, biodiversity and separation of settlements and those, which would not harm the distinctive character of the town or lead to increased flooding were included for development.

However, developers delight in riding roughshod over the views of local residents and have exploited Waverley’s weakness over the past few years.

Sites liable to flooding or which form an important part of the town’s green infrastructure have been allowed at appeal, to the detriment of residents and wildlife alike. Even special sites, deliberately set aside for inclusion in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, have been targeted by voracious developers with little or no respect for nature conservation in Surrey.

It has taken far too long but the change of wording in paragraph 14, from two years to five years, now gives the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan a small breathing space. The Farnham Neighbourhood Plan should carry full weight in planning decisions once again. The revised NPPF not only gives more strength to neighbourhood planning but also welcomes community-led development and emphasises the need to build beautiful and well-designed places.

The town council now has 16 months or so to update its plan and will need the full co-operation of the borough’s planning policy officers, to achieve this. All councillors, who represent our town at Waverley, should get involved in the preparation of both the new Waverley Local Plan and the update of the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan, in order to get the best outcome for our town in the future.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to remove local democracy from the planning process and give developers more freedom to build what they like, where they like. The new Waverley Local Plan will probably not be adopted until 2027 at the earliest and the borough could well remain at risk in the intervening years. A fully revised and updated Farnham Neighbourhood Plan might just enable our town to retain a robust strategy locally and deliver good quality homes on suitable sites. 

Councillor Carole Cockburn BEM

Waverley borough councillor for the Bourne,

Pine Ridge Drive, Lower Bourne, Farnham