A GOVERNMENT planning inspector has been accused of riding roughshod over the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan and the will of more than 10,000 town residents after waving through an appeal for 43 homes in the strategic gap between Farnham and Badshot Lea.

Inspector Andrew Steen’s decision to allow Farnham Estates’ proposed development at Green Lane Farm on the corner of Badshot Lea Road and Monkton Lane, refused by Waverley in March 2017, comes despite the site falling outside of the Farnham built-up area boundary as set out in the Neighbourhood Plan - a policy designed to combat urban sprawl, or ‘coalescence’, between settlements.

It also fuels concerns in Farnham that Waverley has undermined the Neighbourhood Plan by demanding an early review of the community-led planning blueprint just six months after its adoption to accommodate more housing.

Just two weeks ago, Waverley’s new portfolio holder for planning, Tory councillor for Weybourne and Badshot Lea, Christopher Storey, expressed confidence the Neighbourhood Plan will “kill” five upcoming appeals for more than 500 homes in the town area, despite councillors agreeing Waverley’s new higher housing target.

However, although the Green Farm Lane scheme is not one of the five appeals cited by Mr Storey, the inspector’s decision strikes an early blow to his and Waverley’s belief that the Neighbourhood Plan is unharmed by the major modifications to the borough council’s own Local Plan - and sets a worrying precedent for the remaining appeals, which include:

• Plans for 157 homes at Compton Fields in Waverley Lane (WA/2015/0771),

• 140 opposite TS Swiftsure in Lower Weybourne Lane (WA/2014/0391),

• 56 to the rear of Bindon House in Monkton Lane (WA/2015/1484),

• 102 in Upper Old Park Lane, Folly Hill (WA/2016/1224),

• and 97 on the site of Farnham Park Hotel in Hale Road (WA/2016/1323).

Responding to the Green Lane Farm appeal, Mr Storey said he was “extremely disappointed” with the inspector’s decision, made just one day after Waverley councillors agreed the modifications to its Local Plan, and confirmed the borough council is now considering a legal challenge against the appeal ruling.

He added: “The council is currently looking at the reasoning in the inspector’s judgement to determine whether there are grounds for a legal challenge. 

“The council will consider challenging any decisions where there has been an error on a point of law and will be particularly concerned about decisions that are not in accordance with the adopted Local Plan and Farnham Neighbourhood Plan.

“These documents have been adopted to guide decisions on whether or not planning applications can be granted.”

With Waverley’s Local Plan yet to be formally adopted, the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan still stands as the borough’s most up-to-date development plan having survived independent examination, a referendum and a High Court legal challenge by a consortium of developers.

But despite this, Inspector Andrew Steen paid little heed to one of its key policies, that of FNP11 setting out the town’s built-up area boundary, ruling that the proposed development “would not materially affect the character and appearance of the area” and discounting FNP11 as a result.

He states: “The site at Green Lane Farm is within the Strategic Gap between Farnham and Aldershot as defined by Policy C4 of the Waverley Borough Local Plan (LP) that seeks to resist inappropriate development in this location.

“Policy FNP11 of the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan (FNP) seeks to prevent coalescence between a number of settlements, including between Farnham and Aldershot and between Badshot Lea and Weybourne.

“Background to the policy states that the gap between the built up areas of Farnham (at Badshot Lea and Weybourne) and Aldershot is very narrow.

“This suggests that it is the gap on the other side of Badshot Lea that is most important in retaining a Strategic Gap between the settlements, rather than that between Farnham and Badshot Lea in which the appeal site is located.”

This has prompted bewilderment from one of the chief contributors to the Farnham Plan, chairman of the Badshot Lea Community Association, Cliff Watts, who has questioned what ramifications it may hold for Farnham’s remaining outstanding appeals.

Mr Watts told the Herald: “Although the inspector mentions various Waverley Borough Council and FNP policies he then seems to dismiss them too easily in my view. I do not think that this bodes well for the other outstanding appeals if FNP policies are to be applied in this way.

“He mentions that the site makes a minor contribution to the Strategic Gap and development will not materially affect the gap. Having established that they will probably say the same of the adjacent field in due course.

“He goes on to say that the narrower gap on the other side of Badshot Lea is most important in retaining the Strategic Gap between settlements. If that is so and policy FNP11 still has any meaning can we expect the Lower Weybourne Lane appeal to be dismissed as it would completely close the gap between Weybourne and Badshot Lea.

“We now have major development at both ends of Green Lane and every probability that more will follow.

“We lose the few open spaces we have left while other areas of the borough surrounded by hundreds of acres of fields remain untouched thanks to the anachronistic Green Belt policy. This policy is not preventing urban sprawl but simply moving it elsewhere.”