It could be back to the drawing board for the Berkeley Bunnies on its Woolmead development?

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Waverley planning officers together with Surrey County Council highwaymen may be willing to roll over for one of the nation’s largest house builders – but the people of Farnham will not!

Berkeley’s bid to slash car parking at its proposed  Woolmead development in Farnham Town Centre by 61 spaces from 141 to 80 was UNANIMOUSLY refused. It’s bid was dubbed as trying to drive a coach and horses through both Waverley and Surrey’s planning and transport policies to the town’s detriment. 

The Western Planning Committee of 15 councillors from Farnham and elsewhere were in no mood to roll over and ignore their local authorities accepted parking standards to enable the BB’s burrowing for an underground car park to be halved. A bid by the developer that would leave residents of the one-bedroom homes to racket around the town looking for free parking or using spaces provided by the BB’s in the town’s  public car parks – but only for a year.

In other words- Farnham is being dumped on – yet again! said Farnham Society Spokesman David Wylde who asked the council?

“If this proposal had been a part of the original 2018 application to redevelop Woolmead – would it have been approved? And, why was this developer being given another bit of the cherry?

He warned that other developers would be smacking their lips at the wriggle room now being offered by Waverley officers’ recommendation that the revised scheme  with no parking for 61 homes should be approved. WHY In a county with the highest car ownership would the two authorities hypothesise such a reduction when it had no basis in fact.

He painted a picture of – 61, or more cars prowling around the Town looking for parking, in the nearby hunting grounds of Farnham Hospital car park, in Stoke Hills above Woolmead or in nearby residential roads. “About the bus service – do we have one? – As for public transport generally that is one of last resort. As for the BB’s need to make the reduction to maximise its profits, he described this as a cheek and blackmail that should be resisted. 

Councillors pondered how many more concessions would be wrung out of Waverley before the supposedly ‘shovel-ready’ project’ was built-out? Why should the residents of a town where parking was at a premium suffer from the loss of spaces it could ill-afford?

Why, they asked were officers in conjunction with Surrey- ripping up their own parking standards provisions, just because of Berkley’s misjudged risk and supposedly ‘shaky finances’ as it would now only make a £10m profit and a 20% return on its investment?

Farnham Town Cllr ‘Scottie’ Fraser said officers were deluded if they thought it would end here.

‘Berkeley’s should be told to abide by their undertaking, pick up their shovels and get on with the job – because the people of Farnham will not look kindly on them if they don’t. If they are going to sulk and leave boarded-up site – then so be it- and it will be  a stain and an embarrassment on the Berkeley Homes Directors.’

Berkeley’s  divisional director David Gilchrist claimed the proposed reduction was in line with Waverley’s Climate Change initiative to become carbon neutral by 2030 and the reduction in spaces would have a positive impact on Farnham town centre’s traffic congestion and air quality issues. The shift post-COVID was away from car usage to public transport, walking and cycling. He forgot to mention that the revision to reduce parking was made in December 2018 (BC) before coronavirus!

Cllr Brian Adams claimed the application had nothing to do with Climate Change Initiatives and everything to do with increased developer profit. By halving the  basement and improving the profit by £1.4m! 

 Councillors agreed Farnham Town Centre was no place to ride a bike, and the picture Carole Cockburn painted of riding her bike to Waitrose with her shopping hanging off the handle-bars was of the never to be forgotten variety. She claimed the scheme’s revision was just ‘Plum wrong’ and went against The Farnham Neighbourhood Plan, its Design Statement and the Local Plan.

In this newly regenerated town – opposite the White Elephant which was described as such by Cllr Kika Mirylees, she asked where exactly were visitors to Farnham expected to park? 

Cllr John Neale said:

“Does the developer really want  to risk damaging its brand by building a blot on the landscape in Farnham? It is a big concern that the site could go undeveloped, however the people Farnham would prefer to take that risk. The longer it is delayed, the more it will cost

Cllr Dear congratulated Mr Gilchrist, of Berkeleys, for being able to keep a straight face during his presentation, ‘as I sincerely could not understand the construction costs, or the Independent Viability Report – and that is with 35 years experience in the business.’ He said the developer was trying to drive a coach and horses through both Waverley and Surrey’s established planning and transport policies to the detriment of our town.

Cllr Peter Clark said:  “The very fact that Waverley’s planning officers could support this gives me great cause for concern.”

 

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