An AONB win for Haslemere!

HaslemereLongdeneHouse

And a win for Haslemere’s Waverley Councillors!

Plans to build 28 homes in the grounds of a Surrey mansion have been blocked by a High Court judge who backed an inspector’s ruling who backed the Waverley Council decision that the scheme’s impact on an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) should be given more weight than the council’s lack of a five-year housing land supply.

Developers Monkhill Limited wanted to convert Longdene House, off Hedghog Lane, Haslemere, from 50 – yes 50 offices into a single luxury home. And, in its extensive parkland, the company proposed the demolition of existing cottages, glasshouses and outbuildings to construct 28 homes.

The site has had a rollercoaster ride – In 2016 the scheme was refused by Waverley, granted at Appeal, and then Waverley won a High Court Challenge against the Appeal, much to the disgust of wealthy landowner Tony Lawson.
In 2018 the developers were back – Waverley officers recommend it for Planning (the site was in the draft LPP2 after all) but was voted down 12 to 8. It was proposed by Cllr Mulliner, and seconded by Cllr Inchbald, that permission be refused on the grounds of material harm to the intrinsic character, beauty and openness of the Countryside beyond the Green Belt, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Area of Great Landscape Value. Additionally, there were reasons relating to the failure of the applicant to complete a Section 106 agreement to secure agreed contributions. [Meeting minutes] This was brave especially as Waverley had over-ridden the AONB designation on the sloping hill behind Longdene at nearby Sturt Farm.

In the latest appeal decision, the inspector accepted that there was a “significant shortfall” in the available supply of housing land in the area. Waverley only had enough housing sites to last a maximum of 4.6 years, as against the five-year requirement set by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). He said the development would make a “significant contribution” to meeting local housing needs, including the provision of 10 affordable homes.

The decisive factor, however, was that most of the site lies within the Surrey Hills AONB.

The inspector said the project would have “a significant adverse effect on the character and appearance” of the protected area. Despite some benefits to the local economy, it would “not conserve or enhance the landscape and scenic beauty of the AONB”.

Challenging the inspector’s decision, Monkhill argued that he had misinterpreted and misapplied parts of the NPPF. Due to the council’s failure to meet the five-year housing land target, a “tilted balance” applied in favour of the development.

Dismissing the appeal however, Mr Justice Holgate said the inspector’s exercise of his planning judgment could not be faulted. Monkhill’s complaints were “too legalistic and failed to interpret the NPPF in a practical, straightforward way, capable of being operated by decision-makers up and down the country”.

The NPPF, the judge added, gives AONBs “the highest status of protection” and the inspector was right to give “great weight” to the preservation of the character and appearance of the Surrey Hills. The inspector struck “a simple planning balance” between the benefits of the scheme and the harm it would cause to the landscape and scenic beauty of the area.

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