Was Red Court snub politically motivated?
The Royal School site, represented on the map as ‘DS06’, is earmarked for 90 homes in the amended Waverley Local Plan Part Two – and is located next to The Old Grove at High Pitfold (DS08) which is now earmarked for 40 homes
LPP2 could have been submitted in March 2021 in a robust and "inspector-proof" form by including the Red Court site at Scotland Lane, which planning officers had recommended, not least because it was within feasible walking and cycling distance of Haslemere town centre.
However, political considerations led to the late entry of the geographically-remote Royal Junior School site as a replacement for Red Court and this delayed the submission of LPP2 by almost a year.
One of the reasons for the multi-month delay was stated to be the time Waverley officers needed to sift through all the objections to the inclusion of Red Court.
A further round of consultation was held about the new site and, predictably, this site aroused just as much local Haslemere opposition as Red Court.
However, the Hazel Grove residents could not boast the same close ties to the Waverley leadership and their equally numerous objections were able to be "sifted" in only a few days and were duly ignored.
The Royal Junior School site is a risky inclusion in Waverley’s LPP2. It lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and over four-fifths of its 24 acres is open space that has never had a building on it.
Waverley’s administration claims all 24 acres fall within the National Planning Policy Framework definition of "previously developed land".
However, the definition actually states: "Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure."
Curtilage is an inexact term which usually means the land immediately adjacent to a dwelling.
Asking a planning inspector to treat nearly 20 acres of AONB playing fields as "curtilage" so they can be covered in houses is very optimistic.
The risk for the borough and all its residents is what happens if the inspector rejects the site and demands a major modification to replace it.
If there is no replacement site available, the most likely reaction will be to throw out the whole LPP2 and tell Waverley to start again. This will lay the whole borough open to a fresh wave of opportunistic development.
By Stephen Mulliner
Leader, Waverley Borough Council’s Conservative opposition group
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