Fringe Box



Effingham Appeal Hearing Ends – Decision Likely to Take Months

Published on: 5 Jun, 2017
Updated on: 5 Jun, 2017

Proposed Effingham Lodge Farm development site

By Chris Dick

The three-week appeal hearing on a planning proposal for a 295 new homes development on three sites within Effingham ended on Friday (June 2, 2017).

The appeal against Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) decision to refuse planning permission was brought by the Howard Partnership Trust and Berkeley Homes (Southern) Ltd. If allowed the development would provide the necessary funding for a new £30 million secondary school and autism centre.

The decision which will be taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whoever, that might be after this week’s general election and is not expected for several months.

Effingham Lodge Farm, off Lower Road is one of the proposed development sites protected by green belt status earmarked for housing and the new school

The new school, with around 150 new homes, would go on the north side of Lower Road and the old school site would become a second site for new houses. Together with a third site on Browns Lane the three sites would provide sufficient enabling funds to build the new school at no cost to the school, government or residents.

There were three parties to the hearing; the appellant Berkeley Homes on one side and  GBC and Effingham Parish Council (EPC) on the other. Barristers represented all three parties and David Morgan presided as the Secretary of State’s appointed planning inspector.

Berkeley Homes appeal drawing to a close Friday (June 2) at GBC offices in Millmead

Sitting in on an appeal, as a non-participant, could be compared, in terms of excitement, to watching clouds drift by – but slightly more soporific. Evidence and questions were often technical and full of planning jargon. For example the barrister for Berkeley Homes, Timothy Corner read out a 64-page summary to explain why the appeal should succeed.

In sum, he said: “…  Not only is there a clear need for the new school, but also a clear need for the housing which will comprise the enabling development.

“… We submit that these proposals will bring major public benefits which comprise compelling very special circumstances, and merit the Secretary of State’s support by the grant of planning permission.”

The witnesses for the borough and parish councils gave their evidence and were cross-examined. Their subjects included; building designs, heritage, site layout and building density as well as ecological and heritage matters such as different types of grasses and different bat habitats. Every witness attracted thorough attention, at least from the inspector. 

Mr. Whitby the EPC ecology expert, was fascinating with his encyclopedic knowledge of how rare bats are detected and identified. He even listed different types of bats and their calling frequency, the way the rest of us recite the alphabet.

Four parish councillors Cliff Hackett, Paula Moss, Keith Cornwell and Liz Hogger, gave evidence on a range of technical points, including transport, congestion and road safety issues, to the nuances of how much their emerging Neighbourhood Plan carried some weight in planning terms.

They also gave evidence regarding the apparent absence of a compelling need for a new school. In particular, Cllr Moss’s knowledge of school performance indicators, catchment areas, as well as school student choices and school policies appeared expert. And her ability to remain unshakable under sustained cross-examination by the Berkeley Homes barrister Mr. Corner was impressive. 

Controversially, EPC had included potential development sites in their Neighbourhood Plan and it seemed that this policy was well received by the inspector. They had put forward three (mostly different) potential sites all of which are in the green belt.

The EPC position was that that they were not against sustainable development but they were against increasing the number of houses in the village by around 30%. Cllr Moss admitted that the policy to include potential sites had not been universally well received in the village and had cost them many friends. As one resident said; “They (EPC) could not have done more.”

EPC witnesses appeared to place equal emphasis on the support it wanted to offer the school and how proud it and residents were to be associated with such an outstanding school.

Mr. Scott Stemp’s closing note, on behalf of EPC, was  shorter – a mere 36 pages. The final two paragraphs provide the flavour of his summary: “As noted in opening (and as accepted by EPC throughout) there are obvious benefits to the proposals. Provision of market and affordable housing given GBC’s shortfall, community benefits and provision of a brand new school all doubtless have positive aspects to them.

“But those benefits, such as they are, need to be understood in context. The considerable, albeit less than substantial, direct and irreversible harm to the designated heritage assets as identified by Bell, [an expert witness on heritage] coalescing the distinct communities of Effingham and Little Bookham, closing the green gap and introducing inappropriate development into the green belt whilst causing unquantified likely harm to protected species and their habitats, including the severing of the proposed wildlife corridor, the division of the Effingham and Leatherhead Rugby Club, riding rough shod over the considered and consulted upon Neighbourhood Plan which itself reflects the needs and aspirations of the parish as a whole.

“All this for the sake of expanding a school which doesn’t require expansion, to replace buildings which are largely good or satisfactory, for a school which demonstrably performs no better than others in the area, and the consequence of expansion here likely being a reduction in choice to attend other nearby schools, to provide housing which doesn’t reflect the needs of the parish and will drive a wrecking ball through the spatial strategy of the Neighbourhood Plan.

“All these point to the benefits, such as they are, not constituting “very special circumstances” so as to clearly outweigh the harm by way of inappropriateness and all other identified harms. The appeal should clearly be dismissed.”

Speaking at the end of the inquiry, Cllr Arnold Pindar, chairman of  Effingham Parish Council, said: “Whatever the outcome of this planning appeal, residents of Effingham can be sure that our [parish] council witnesses provided well researched, detailed evidence, to support the strongly held views of the vast majority of our residents.”

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