A front-bench Conservative councillor has accused Farnham Residents members of throwing Farnham's green spaces to the wolves by voting to delay an update of Waverley's Local Plan until after May's elections.
After a gruelling four-hour debate at the February 21 meeting of Waverley Borough Council, councillors agreed to a highly amended motion to approve a full update of the borough's local planning blueprint later this year.
However, Carole Cockburn (Conservative, The Bourne), believes the uncertainty caused by this delay will weaken Waverley's case against several major developments in Farnham going to appeal this spring.
Instead, the deputy leader of Waverley's Conservative opposition group has argued that councillors should have agreed to a minor update now, with a full update to follow once reforms to national planning policy are confirmed.
"I am very disappointed," Cllr Cockburn said of the February 21 Waverley full council vote. "I had hoped that members of the Farnham Residents would back a speedy and minimal update of Local Plan Part One, the only way to protect the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan. But, at the last moment, they couldn’t bring themselves to vote against the Lib Dem-led executive.
"Councillors David Beaman (joint-leader of Farnham Town Council) and Liz Townsend (Waverley’s Lib Dem portfolio holder for planning) came up with a form of wording that was supposed to sound more reassuring – but the truth is the recommendation has damaged the prospects of defending the three big appeals in Farnham which are to be heard in March and April and the many more pending, all on unallocated sites.
"Time after time I have been told that a minimal update, which many authorities have carried out, cannot be achieved in Waverley. The irony is that Andrew Longley, the planning consultant currently working for Waverley, produced just such a report for North Northamptonshire when he was a planning officer.
"The circumstances are unique in each borough but Andrew argued that with all the changes coming, this was an inopportune moment to update the core strategy. The council agreed not to make any changes to the strategy at that point but to monitor closely and prepare for an update at a later date.
"This is my argument for Waverley. The Farnham Residents/Lib Dem executive created an unnecessary delay to Local Plan Part Two (LPP2), which means it is yet to be adopted, a full five years after Local Plan Part One (LPP1) was adopted. The timing couldn’t be worse for the borough.
"LPP2 is designed to deliver the strategy in LPP1, together with neighbourhood plans. Why on earth can we not argue that the first complete development plan for five years should be given time to improve delivery yet further?
"Housing numbers are more complicated but, if Waverley’s current target of 842 can be achieved and improved, we should be able to deliver the current target and more, and agree to update the figures in 2028. Council papers show the vast majority of policies remain broadly compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework. Surely a minimal update now is worth a try?
"There will also be further changes to national policy this year, which could easily be incorporated at a later review.
"As things stand, Waverley has told the world and his wife that its Local Plan is not fit for purpose and that its housing target is out of date. The borough will be in planning limbo for months, if not years. We might as well walk into future planning inquiries waving a white flag.
"I have campaigned for years for a longer period of protection for neighbourhood plans in the National Planning Policy Framework and am now campaigning to get proposed changes, which might just help Farnham, implemented quickly. It remains the town’s only chance. I am down but I am certainly not out and I will never give up on the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan."
In a column for this week's Herald, Cllr Liz Townsend, Waverley's portfolio holder for planning, defended the council's decision to undertake a full update.
She said: "We have a legal requirement to review our plan when it is five years old, and the first part of our plan has reached this stage. We have gone through a thorough review process, as recommended by government, and this has clearly demonstrated the plan needs updating.
"This is an opportunity to finally regain some control over housing delivery across the borough."