Guildford’s new Local Plan is facing three legal challenges over its inclusion of green belt sites such as the former Wisley Airfield.
Ockham Parish Council, a long-standing opponent of the Wisley development, has already lodged an application with the High Court seeking to have the airfield excluded from the Local Plan. It has engaged leading planning barrister Richard Harwood QC to fight its case after raising £30,000 from residents to cover its legal expenses.
In court documents seen by SurreyLive, the parish council’s legal representatives claim planning inspector Jonathan Bore, who reviewed the Local Plan, failed to find exceptional circumstances for releasing land for 4,000 more houses than Guildford requires, including the 2,000 homes allocated for the Wisley site.
The documents claim the inspector’s reasons for allocating more houses than needed were “flawed, irrational and based on a misunderstanding of national policy”.
Guildford’s Local Plan Saga
The Local Plan, adopted at a controversial emergency council meeting just a week before the Conservatives suffered a shock collapse at the local elections in May 2019, assessed Guildford’s housing need at 10,678 homes between 2015 and 2034, but allocated enough sites for 14,602.
Plan includes ‘massive overprovision at expense of green belt’
In his report, Mr Bore explained the surplus by saying: “Circumstances may change, and new strategic sites cannot be brought forward quickly to meet revised housing requirements; they have to be planned well in advance. Therefore, by making the allocations now, the council have aimed to future proof the plan.”
However, in his written submission to the High Court, Mr Harwood argues that exceeding the housing requirement does not amount to exceptional circumstances, especially as much of the flexibility this allows only insures against other “unnecessary” sites not coming forward.
“It is simply delivering a strategy of massive overprovision at the expense of the green belt,” court documents state. “There is no need for these to meet the housing requirements.”
Ockham Parish Council representatives also argue that Mr Bore failed to explain why he was differing from the secretary of state, who rejected a planning appeal for the Wisley site in June 2018 mainly on the grounds of the harm it would cause to the green belt.
Council will consider challenges ‘fully and evenly’
Two other applications for judicial review of the Local Plan have been lodged at the High Court, one by Compton Parish Council and another by Guildford resident Julian Cranwell.
The Compton application relates mainly to the Blackwell Farm site to the west of Guildford and involves many of the same arguments as Ockham Parish Council’s bid, claiming Mr Bore did not identify “exceptional circumstances” for removing the land from the green belt.
Compton Parish Council’s barrister, Richard Kimblin QC, also argues that the inspector failed to consider whether the construction of an access road for Blackwell Farm across part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was a “major development” and thus only justified in “exceptional circumstances”.
Mr Cranwell’s application is believed to have been lodged on behalf of the borough’s villages that would be affected by changes to the green belt.
Newly installed lead councillor for planning Jan Harwood (no relation) said the council would consider the basis of the challenges before deciding how to proceed.
Cllr Harwood said: “Any statutory challenge to the Local Plan must be about the legal process, not about the outcome of the decision itself or any specific planning judgements. On the narrow range of matters that can be argued as part of a statutory challenge, the council is not aware of any lack of lawfulness in the process which led to the decision of the council.
“However, the council will carefully consider the terms and basis of the challenges and will participate in an open and transparent manner with the court and other parties. The council will fully and evenly consider the arguments made by all those involved in the proceedings and councillors will be advised in full of the council’s options.”
A High Court judge will now decide whether Ockham Parish Council and the other applicants have an arguable case and, if they do, will grant permission for a full hearing at a later date.
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