Now Waverley Planners and Haslemere and borough residents wait with bated breath for Inspector Helen Hochenhull’s decision.
The Appellant Redwood has not requested costs against Waverley.
The Red Court controversy for 50 homes in Haslemere has sparked off one of the most vitriolic and toxic issues that we have witnessed since the foundation of the Waverley Web. Anger and accusations of impropriety have been swirling around that part of the borough since the Red Court site was removed in late 2021 as an allocated site from Waverley Local Plan Part 2. (LP2)
Social media has been swamped with comments from Elstead’s Cllr Jenny Else, a strong supporter of development at Red Court and a member of the Tory Executive that presided over a delayed Local Plan and a dismal record of housing supply in its early years.
But Waverley’s Barrister Clare Parry has defended the lynchpin on which Redwood’s Red Court 50 home scheme off Scotland Lane hangs. Waverley’s 5-year housing supply.
In her summing up, she remained confident that the council was well on the way to dealing with the 990 homes required in Haslemere during the life of the local plan. There had been 230 completions, and there were 328 outstanding permissions in Haslemere. Another nine years remained in the local plan, giving ample time to meet Haslemere’s need. She refuted the developers’ claims that a whole list of sites – including Milford Golf Course and the Dunsfold Garden Village were undeliverable in five years.
As for the controversy surrounding The Royal Junior School in Hindhead and Old Grove, she set out the council’s position; while both not as well located as Red Court, not so poorly located to make them inherently unsuitable for allocation.
“Whether that is the right conclusion is a matter on which the L0cal Plan 2 Inspector will reach a conclusion.” she said.
Two sites at Sturt Farm in Haslemere for 132 (52 a.h.) homes and another for 45 homes at Wey Hill to be provided by registered social housing providers would contribute a huge number of affordable homes. But there was a debate about to whom they would be offered, and who had the nomination rights Waverley or the developer.
Inspector Helen Hochenhull sought clarity on the subject of “affordable homes.” Redwood’s Barrister Heather Sargent said no homes on the sites mentioned would remain “affordable” in perpetuity; however, Red Court would.
Ms Parry was unsure whether or not tenancies would be just for those living in the Haslemere area.
I don’t know? Officers can have some degree of control over who lives there. I do accept that in time if homes are not secured in perpetuity they may revert back onto the open market.
Claims that Waverley, on its present trajectory, couldn’t meet the 11,000 homes required in the borough during the plan period was so far behind – was unsubstantiated said, Ms Parry. There was sufficient brownfield land in Haslemere to meet the housing need there, and other sites were coming forward and would be completed elsewhere in the borough.
Ms Parry set great store on LP2 being lodged with the Bristol Inspectorate. A plan which she said, “it (Waverley) thinks is sound.
“That’s a big step forward, isn’t it?
However, Redwood’s planner ~Mr Collins, said.
Yes, it is another stage in the process. It is the same plan approved for public consultation, the representations have been packaged up and it has been sent off to Bristol for examination. What hasn’t happened yet is, no start date for examination, no Inspector appointed yet, which from experience takes about 6 months to the examination. Whoever is appointed will have to make an initial examination of that plan should it need modifications?
In her closing submission, Barrister for Redcourt Heather Sargent said:
Our position can be short. – Waverley Council doesn’t have a 5 yr land supply. The tilted balance of harm then reduces from what has been claimed here as significant to negligible.
The councils own evidence had shown significant weight must be given to both their market and affordable housing, highway improvements, and biodiversity gains.
The Appellant had serious concerns about the way the site was removed from LP2.
The obvious concern being the advice given by the Leader of the Council that the site was to be removed in very short order – before the consultation had even been completed or officers able to consider the points raised by consultees and their reps.
Waverley’s sole reason for refusal was based on character and appearance. A position had not changed since May 2018 when the council first allocated the site – except the trees have grown.
For over 3 years the council was content for develpment on the site. It is completely unpersuasive for the council to now say it cannot be developed. Once allocated it is very difficult to remove a site unless circumstances have changed.
She said the Appellant’s planning witness had robustly refuted that Waverley had a five-year housing supply, and only 5 years – and no buffer – and seeking to include communal accommodation. She said its figures didn’t match and,
“an element of double counting had been going on. This council has a consistent track record of overestimating future housing delivery – since the adoption of LP1 its av completions are 24% lower than predicted. A situation over over optimism that has repeatedly been proven at appeal.
Waverley’ total 5-year requirement of 4,460 units had a total supply of 4,660 units – A surplus of 220 units.
Evidence on Dunsfold Park for 450 units alone would immediately take the supply 5 below five years.
The council’s case on Dunsfold Park is hopeless and I do put it as high as that.
That is because as recently as June 21 an Inspector in the Lower Weyborne Lane, Farnham decision expressed the view that even the inclusion 130 homes was optimistic and did not meet the definition of being deliverable within the NPPF. Since then the site has been put on the market, the preferred bidder is not a developer and will need a development partner. The council has decided to produduce a Strategic Planning Document for the site, and temporary consents have been issued, which indicates there is no intention to vacate the site before April 2024.
She said Milford Golf Course contributed 160 homes to the supply calculation, but whilst a restrictive covenant remained in place, there was a genuine fundamental impediment for any housing on that site. Suggestions that the covenant can be removed was purely speculation. It should be removed from the supply – together with Centrum Business Park and Coxbridge Farm in Farnham, which would immediately take the supply below five years
The need for housing in the borough would become more acute, and no allowance was made in line with The Strategic Housing Land Assessment for unmet needs elsewhere.
It was entirely likely Waverley would not meet the 703 figure plus a 5% buffer for Woking’s unmet need. It had consistently failed to meet the 590 figure during the LP1 period.
Ms Sargent told the Inspector – The council’s supply direction would worsen, coupled with poor performance delivery in the past, and it had to review its Local Plan Part 1 LP1 in 2023.
Haslemere’s immediate need for new housing was a minimum of 990 by 2032. As of last year, only 23% was delivered. Completions would need to double every year to reach the min. The town is behind the curve in respect of completions. There were no sites allocated in Haslemere’s NP, and 990 homes could not be delivered either by using land in the AGLV on this site or within AONB Royal Jnr school. There was, therefore, an exponential worsening of its housing situation.
Lp2 is 12/18 months away from adoption, and the Royal School has two objections from statutory consultees, including Natural England and Sport England, as well as the considerable debate as to whether the site is brownfield or previously developed land. No evidence had been provided on how many homes could be built there. LP2 would have to determine whether to allocate a site within the AONB that is not an edge of settlement location and is arguably only partially developed – ahead of Red Court, a greenfield site that is not in the AONB is on the edge of a settlement.
There is no immediate strategy to resolve the acute housing shortage in the town – and in the light of my previous comments, and in the absence of a 5 year housing land supply, this scheme providing housing should at least be given significant, if not very significant weight. Waverley will receive £2.3m some of which will go to Haslemere 22 affordable homes in perpetuity and 28 market homes.
Therefore only one reason for refusal remained—harm to the setting of the countryside and the setting of the AONB.
Red Court faced a small residential area – Park Rd and Scotland Close with limited visibility. The woodland was of poor quality and colonised by Japanese Knotweed and not particularly remarkable paddocks.
We maintain it is not a valued landscape.At no point during the three years that the council was proposing to allocate the site for development was there any suggestion that it was valued landscape nor was there any such suggestion in the officers’ report. Nor was it part of the council’s statementof case or did the rule 6 party seek to argue that it was a valued landscape.
It is a legal requirement to put forward these arguments in the Council’s Statement of Case if planning permission is to be refused.
Neither Mr Smith nor the South Down National Park recognises Red Court as a “valued landscape. The site was neglected for many years, evident from the Japanese Knotweed.
Waverley own Heritage Officer had no objection. The site wasn’t wild or tranquil. Neither was it rare or contributed to the South Downs National Park setting.
Miss Marsh the Residents Witness described the site as “wild and tranquil” but admitted she had never entered the site.”
In view of the balance of harm against the scheme’s demonstrable benefit, Ms Sargent respectfully suggested to the Inspector that planning permission should be granted.
One thought on “One of THE most controversial planning inquiries in Waverley is over.”
People in Waverley are rightly upset by the way in which mandatory housing allocations have been inflicted, especially on our smaller towns. In 2018, CPRE and POW tried to appeal against these numbers and allocations because they believed they would have a detrimental impact on towns like Haslemere and others, and unfortunately they failed. I was not a Councillor then, and if I had been, I would have proposed for the Haslemere Town Council to have lent support to that action, even if it was only just to voice public moral support. I have wondered whether there may be the possibility to form a bottom-up movement to challenge this policy, with people from other affected communities, and it is something I have raised with some other Councillors. That goes to government policy and planning law — no doubt the debate on this will continue.
Stuck with the legal requirements of housing LPP2 imposes, Waverley has committed to supporting finding housing that does the least damage to nature, has the least impact to the wider community and which offers the best opportunity for a percentage of affordable housing. In Haslemere, under this scenario, on those terms, faced with the alternative site allocation at the Royal School, Clive Smith, Planning Advisor of Surrey Hills AONB clearly weighed in favour of the Royal School, not Red Court on the basis of landscape value and setting. When the Appellant’s Counsel queried Mr Smith as to whether, surely this wasn’t a “beauty contest”, Mr Smith replied that in fact, beauty contests were an inevitable feature of planning decisions determining suitability of sites and evidential appropriateness. The Royal School sits on the edge of the A3, comprises tarmac, playing fields and already has existing built development. Mr Smith said that the Royal School’s AONB status was granted in 1958, prior to the creation of the A3 and Hindhead Tunnel. He noted that this single proposal has had “the highest number of written objections from all across Haslemere, right across the town” that he had ever seen.
Contrary to your implication, Mr Smith made detailed points as to why development should be refused at Red Court, which he said he regards as having the required landscape value for inclusion in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) extension as part of the Surrey Hills AONB boundary review process now underway by Natural England. In addition to its likelihood for this consideration, Jeremy Hunt, our MP for South West Surrey, joined other Surrey MPs to urge Natural England to consider additional protection for Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) like Red Court as “beautiful and ecologically sensitive areas” that should be included for protection being “potentially vulnerable to inappropriate development.” The MPS said: “In our view, the AGLVs contain landscapes just as valuable as those covered by the AONB designation and as such deserve to be given the same protections. If they were ever built upon, whether for agricultural intensification or for housing, it would change the character of the area forever.”
Evidence submitted at the appeal showed that the Appellant’s proposed mass housing plans are regarded by the majority of Haslemere residents as unwelcome. Approval of this appeal by the Inspector would therefore seriously undermine the Localism Act 2011 and local democracy. Haslemere’s Neighbourhood Plan, which excludes Red Court was supported 9 to 1 (87% of voting residents) at recent Referendum. Waverley Borough Council (WBC)’s draft LPP2 – which removed the Red Court site allocation and replaced it with a housing development at an alternative site on previously developed brownfield deemed more suitable — was supported and voted for by the majority of the Council.
It should be remembered that our first mayor Sir Robert Hunter, co-founder of the National Trust, was instrumental in ensuring that land around Haslemere was among the National Trust’s earliest acquisitions. He fell in love with our town’s highly distinctive rural landscape and made it his lifelong home. He realised that “if action was not taken urgently, the very thing that was attracting people to the area would disappear forever under swathes of brick and acres of neat gardens.” How better to describe the Appellant’s plans for Red Court?
At the time the Appellant purchased Red Court, the Government made it widely clear in its planning legislation that it promoted the protection of such designated landscapes and encouraged building on brownfield and existing built sites as a priority as opposed to building on sites which resulted in causing significant landscape harm and biodiversity loss. Recent Government announcements, including the Environment Bill, further emphasise this cause. With regards to Localism, in October Secretary of State for Housing Michael Gove recently commented that the Government should make “neighbourhood planning universal and the ultimate arbiter of local development.”
Public consultation for Haslemere’s Neighbourhood Plan’s found 89% of surveyed Haslemere residents made it clear that they did not want to see major developments such as Red Court on Haslemere’s AONB/AGLV green spaces. I understand there have been 543 objections to the Appellant’s plan from all over Haslemere – not just the immediate surrounds – as opposed to 4 supporters, including the developer’s associates. Based on this public consultation, HTC and WBC Councillors rejected the Appellant’s proposed plan on the basis that it would cause great harm to our landscape setting and biodiversity, acknowledging it would change the nature of our town’s landscape setting and character forever. Approving this appeal would ignore and eradicate local democracy and Localism, which would be regarded by Haslemere residents as a public harm.
With its ancient woodlands, wildflower meadows and hedgerow-rich fields, Red Court is home to protected and endangered Red List species – including dormice, song thrushes, slow worms and grass snakes (using woodland rides/edges) plus the site supports a number of threatened local bats such as Soprano pipistrelle, Brown long-eared bat and Noctule. There are also nesting owls, nesting nightingale, linnets, returning migratory woodlark, sparrow hawks, redpoll, plus countless annual visitors such as cuckoo and woodpeckers, and Red Court is also home to many deer. As you will appreciate, this kind of complex ecosystem and biodiversity takes decades to be established and represents exactly the kind of green land we are intended under the law to legally intended to prioritise for protection.
The uniqueness of Haslemere’s regional importance to both local and regional ecology was recently evidenced by Tom Oliver – Professor of Applied Ecology at University of Reading, Senior fellow on Defra Systems Research programme and member of European Environment Agency Scientific Committee. Professor Oliver, an expert on biodiversity monitoring data who teaches on the use of biodiversity net gain to MSc students, commented that the proposed plan would inevitably lead to significant biodiversity loss, which he calculated would be -44.7 It is interesting to note that the Appellant first estimated a biodiversity net gain of 11.85%, then revised the gain upwards to 20.22% without any changes to the site. Respected Haslemere ecologist Gareth Matthes’ statement further outlines concerns as to ecological harm and biodiversity loss, based on his experience identifying key areas of biodiversity and ecological importance with the HTC-supported Haslemere Vision biodiversity mapping project. Removing such biodiversity from the community is a harm.
The Planning Inspector is being asked to find exceptional circumstances to justify the over-riding of national policy as well as policies laid out in WBC’s Local Plan and our Neighbourhood Plan to approve the destruction of this valued landscape and habitat for a mass housing project, put forward by a speculative developer.
The Planning Inspector will have to decide whether “any adverse impacts significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the NPPF as a whole.” It has been suggested by the Appellant that the key NPPF policies – 170, 172, 174 and 175 – should not apply. NPPF guidelines state that sites such as Red Court should not be unduly or disproportionately targeted for speculative development ahead of brownfield options. The majority of WBC Councillors took the view that Haslemere’s housing needs can be met without building on and destroying Red Court. In taking this decision they were also reflecting Government commitments and WBC’s own policies for retaining protected AONB/AGLV and biodiversity.
Regardless of the 5 year housing plan numbers, it is also highly relevant to highlight here the decision by the Court of Appeal, in January 2021. Justice Holgate denied permission for development at Longdene (another greenfield site allocation in earlier drafts of WBC’s Local Plan, subsequently rejected by WBC as the draft Local Plan Part 2 was finalised) on the grounds of NPPF paragraph 172 that housing needs cannot trump building on protected AONB confirming and great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty.” Longdene is a smaller and less ecologically and biodiversity rich parcel of land – unlike Red Court it is not adjacent to the South Downs National Park, nor known to be a natural corridor for wildlife, nor documented as being a significant home for protected and endangered woodland species. Given that under WBC’s Local Plan RE1 and RE3, AGLV and therefore Red Court must be regarded as AONB, what would justify disregarding this important case law?
For Haslemere residents, conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty that is a historic and cultural feature of the character of our town is important to the well-being of our community. Removing that public good is a harm.
In addition to strong concerns about the landscape setting, environment, habitat and biodiversity, there are major concerns about infrastructure, especially with given the dire water shortage experienced within this area of Haslemere with knock-on effects on sewerage. Last but not least, there are also serious concerns that this development does not support sustainable transport and would only add to traffic congestion around the location. Worse still, the transport proposal involving virtual pavements on dangerous narrow roads would be ludicrous if it wasn’t so dangerous: virtual pavements along with increased traffic pose major safety hazards, especially to children and the elderly of our community. This rightly should have been the subject of a public consultation.
Disclosure: I am a resident of Scotland Lane, and an elected Haslemere Town Councillor. I live adjacent to Red Court which means I am aware of the many reasons why this irreplaceable green area of natural beauty is precious and unique to the setting of Haslemere. I have also been a witness to – and, as councillor, a participant in – our community’s active and positive engagement with the local democratic process.