Guildford Take a Year to Determine Planning Application – Propose to Allocate Site – Then Recommend Refusal

From the department of things which give the Planning System a Bad Name

The Wisley Aerodrome Site

Heres the report –  which has taken a year to write

Published IN THE SAME WEEK as Guildford propose to allocate the site in its sbmission plan and remove it from Greenbelt.

The application is for 2,038 units plus the other uses you would expect in a project of this size.  Including 8 Travellers pitches.

The proposed zoning is ”Approximately 2000 homes”

What is more if the government change to the NPPF goes through it wont even be inappropriate development in the Green Belt – this application may be the last chance to shape the site within firm national policy – so the recommendation to refuse seems tactically and politically numbskulled.

So what are the reasons for refusal

Lets look at the main ones, some are so weak they seem to be inviting a partial award of costs – leading me to think the recommendation is under political duress as cllrs wish to see a local plan inspector making the final decision which they can claim is forced upon them.

The key of course is Green Belt.  The recent Houghtonm Regis Case, as well as the SoS call in on the Tewksbury case (too late to be referred to in the report) state that a proposed allocation in a draft plan is capable of being a ‘very special circumstance’for loss of GB.

The balancing exercise is very professionally done – after a year of effort two sentences

While the benefits associated with the proposal are significant they do not clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the other harm that has been identified in this report. Accordingly the benefits of the proposal, taken individually or cumulatively, are not considered to amount to the very special circumstances necessary to justify a grant of planning permission.

Thats it no balancing exercise – just a statement without support.  if they dont clearly outweigh why propose deleting the’site in your local plan?  No argument is made that the it çlearly outweighs’in exceptional circumstances terms but not VSC terms?

The Council seem to be relaying on their famous legal dispute with KitKat that ‘Green Belt harm and other Harm’ allows one to use a GB refusal reason in cases where there is other harm.  However it is difficult to justify this when the planning balance- which part from GB the NPPF makes clear is the same for allocating sites as permitting them – of Guildford is that the benefits outweigh the harm.

The exceptional circumstances test is a test set down by the courts rather than ministers.  For an excellent summary of the law see the local action groups website.

Guildford have stated reasons why they consider the exceptional circumstances test has been met

There is no definition of what constitutes exceptional circumstances, as this will vary locally. Legal advice suggests that it is likely to be interpreted as circumstances arising that are not commonplace. We consider that a combination of factors exist locally that together constitute exceptional circumstances that enable us to take the decision to amend our Green Belt boundaries. This includes the high level of housing need, including affordable homes, exacerbated by a significant backlog of unmet need, the lack of suitable alternative land, the general lack of affordability across the borough and issues with housing mix. Additionally we need to consider the consequences of not amending our Green Belt boundaries which would be to significantly worsen an already difficult housing position, and the consequential economic situation.’

But they have not stated why they do not consider the`VSC test has not been, other than in the (joke) ‘planning balance’ para.

If the tactic is to stall and leave KitKat as few words to go on why then are the other refusal reasons so weak and poorly drafted – it makes little sense?

For example the SPA reason states that there has been no AA, but as no housing is proposed within 400m of the SPA none is needed.  English Nature have no objection.  A SNGS scheme is proposed.  The refusal reason being the narrow one that no means of securing it has been realised?  Have Guidford never heard of a Grampian Condition?

With the off site highway works and funding of buses there are outstanding concerns from the HE and SCC, but again the canny tactic here is to resolve to approve ‘subject to a legal agreement to…xyz’ draft a unilateral undertaking and challenge the applicants to sign it.  You arnt going to get any better on appeal.    Especially as the HA have a weird technical objection to the TA.

Traffic counts for the typical morning peak hour of 8-9 am do not represent the true demand on the network;

So when does 2am in the morning?  KitKat must be chewing the cud to x-examine the HA and SCC officers for 3 days a piece at PLI.  Such officers have never emerged with the same nervous disposition again.

This is a weak case for refusal – a stalling measure -playing games with local residents (raising expectations that cant be met) and the applicant.  It provides the perfect case of why we need to move towards a zoning based system.





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