A GOVERNMENT planning inspector has castigated Waverley Borough Council over its housing targets after he allowed an appeal for a controversial “hybrid” planning application to go ahead in Haslemere.

The successful appeal by Monkhill residential property developers over Longdene House, in Hedgehog Lane, includes both an outline application for one part, and full planning permission for another part, of the same site.

Planning inspector Ken Barton delivered the sharp rebuttal to Waverley’s housing figures over the next five years on specific sites outside settlement boundaries which he considered to be ‘unrealistic”.

He said: “On this basis alone 416 units should be removed from the supply which confirms the council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.”

He accused Waverley of falling short of its housing targets in his damming comments over the borough council in his appeal decision report.

It said: “This is against the background of the council consistently over the last eight years falling short of its supply requirement indicating its figures are optimistic rather reasonable and realistic.

“A step change is required,” declared the inspector in his report, while conceding Waverley’s new emerging local plan “was at an advanced stage,” and he accepted it was “likely to be found capable of being sound”.

But Mr Barton took the side of the developers’ evidence on housing needs in the borough saying: “The appellant’s evidence is to be preferred to that of the council, which is more optimistic than realistic. A five-year supply cannot be demonstrated. At least 686 units should be deleted from the overall supply.”

While the council accepted there is an acute need for more than 300 affordable homes a year in Waverley, Mr Barton said: “There was a material need for new affordable housing in Haslemere with more than 100 residents looking for such homes.”

Outline planning proposals included the demolition of two existing semi-detached homes near Longdene House and redevelopment to provide up to 29 homes on the three-and-a-half acre site.

The latest proposals come on top of the 135 new homes already approved near Sturt Farm.

Full planning permission was also granted for the change of use from office to residential and and refurbishment of the Victorian Longdene House, surrounded on all sides by large gardens with fields beyond, formerly a home and part of a large estate which includes the adjoining Sturt Farm.

The dual application was refused by Waverley Borough Council almost a year ago. It was followed by a three-day planning inquiry and site visit which took place in July.

It also included visiting three other land availability assessment (LAA) sites within the borough.

Refusing the application last September Waverley said the proposals would cause both impact and harm to the character of the landscape and open countryside beyond the Green Belt, Surrey Hills’ Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and in an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).

It decreed there were “no expectational circumstances in the public interest” to allow the development to go ahead. Waverley also contended the proposal would be a major development in the AONB.

But Mr Barton said the appeal site was “on the very edge with part of the site being outside the AONB.”

Waverley had produced “little evidence” to support its view, he added, and concluded that screening the development would have only slight adverse impact within the area.

He also agreed with the developers that even appeals relating to as many as 38 units would not have been considered a major development.

He concluded the application did not conflict with current policies to meet current housing needs, with Waverley “overriding the AONB designation elsewhere in the district in an attempt to meet housing needs, as was the case in Sturt Farm.”

Mr Barton also said the benefits outweighed the disadvantages of the scheme which would provide at least 17 homes for sale on the open market, and 10 affordable homes for which there was “an acute need” in both the borough and the town.

He said: “Given the scale of need for both types of dwelling these benefits should be given considerable weight, even though the numbers might be relatively small and a larger scheme, like the 135 units at Sturt Farm, might have attracted even greater weight.”

Mr Barton considered the the proposed development could bring economic benefits to the town in the form of construction jobs and social benefits from the mix of homes.

In his summing up, Mr Barton’s report concluded the benefit would outweigh the limited harm the proposals would cause the AONB.

He said: “Consequently the appeal should be allowed, subject to any conditions and planning obligations that would be necessary to make the scheme acceptable.”

A long list of conditions has been imposed on both the full and outline proposals including a construction transport and environmental management plan, plus measures to safeguard trees and the character and appearance of the countryside.

A WBC spokesman said: “The inspector acknowledged the harm to the AONB but concluded it did not outweigh the benefit of the scheme. While we are disappointed, the 27 homes will contribute to the council’s five-year housing supply and will contribute to meeting the housing need in Haslemere.”