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Withdrawing Tandridge Local Plan Now Would Be ‘Dangerous’

Published on: 24 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 26 Jan, 2023

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

A Surrey council leader has warned of the “danger” of starting the authority’s plan for 6,000 new homes from scratch as it proposes to submit a shorter-term plan for the area.

Tandridge District, which is 94% green belt, is in East Surrey. Image Wikipedia

Tandridge District Council’s Local Plan has been on pause since September, pending possible changes to central government policy on planning, which are now under way.

A meeting of the authority’s planning policy committee on Thursday (January 19) heard that changes at Westminster level could impact on housing targets and the releasing of green belt land to meet those targets.

The warning echoes the concerns expressed by some GBC councillors attached to reviewing Guildford’s Local Plan.

But, Tandridge planners admitted the possible changes were not immediately obvious, with documents from government which seemed to be “saying slightly different things in different places”.

Cliff Thurlow, the district council’s interim head of planning, told the meeting: “We’re going to have to keep a very close eye on all of this to see what actually does come through at the end of the day.”

He said developing a short-term, five-year plan to get “robust policies” in place and think about the district’s longer-term issues had been put forward by consultants as a possible solution.

A consultation is currently running regarding changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), while officers also pointed to what was described as Tandridge’s “inexplicably large housing delivery target figures”.

One large stumbling block in the plan has been the proposed 4,000 home South Godstone Garden Village being key to the council being able to meet its housing target, and the huge cost of works needed at junction 6 of the M25 to meet the demand of the new homes.

Tandridge District Council leader Catherine Sayer. Photo: Darren Pepe

The council’s leader, Cllr Catherine Sayer (Independents and OLRG Alliance, Oxted North & Tandridge) said it was “quite a conflicting set of messages” from central government but that consultants were keen to use the “window of opportunity” to get some sort of plan through.

She said in a “changing landscape”, getting some sort of plan through now meant the authority would have some “breathing space” before having to submit another plan amid further changes coming from 2024.

The Local Plan as it stands would have set out where and when homes would be built in the district up until 2033.

Cllr Sayer said: “It is absolutely crucial to this district to have some sort of plan to avoid uncontrolled development and development in the wrong place.

“We’re already getting a lot of applications on the green belt and elsewhere that are not suitable and we’re going to end up fighting all of these at appeal unless we have a plan.”

She added that constraints in the district, such as at junction six and a possible expansion of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could give the council the chance to revisit housing numbers.

In March 2022, councillors heard that a strongly worded letter from the inspector had put the council “on notice” that if it didn’t look like the Local Plan could be delivered, it could be withdrawn altogether.

In Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Sayer said: “What will be dangerous, and what the consultants think is dangerous, is to withdraw this plan now, when there’s a chance of getting something through that will give us stability.”

Cllr Mike Crane (Independents and OLRG Alliance, Godstone) claimed another reason for the delay to the Local Plan was that they had been “kowtowing” to the inspector for three years, adding: “It’s about time we stopped.”

He added: “We’ve been dealt the card of an inspector, God knows how he gets out of bed in the morning.

“I don’t understand how he decides which side of the bed to get out of, he is incapable of making a decision.”

The meeting also heard comparisons with nearby Mole Valley, where the council has written to its Local Plan inspector to propose withdrawing all the green belt sites put forward for development in the plan, having also put a pause on proceedings.

Cllr Keith Prew (Conservative, Warlingham West) said he hoped that a future letter from Tandridge to the council’s assigned inspector would include proposals to remove green belt sites from the plan.

But the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, Cllr Jeffrey Gray (Whyteleafe) also raised concerns about the “brownfield first” approach put forward in Michael Gove’s plans.

The approach would see previously developed sites, mostly in already built-up areas, used for housing before rural sites, which Cllr Gray said had been a “complete” disaster in his area where previous commercial buildings had been turned into housing.

He described some of the developments as “really squalid” and said there needed to be some focus on how urban areas were developed as well as the discussion around green belt sites.

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Responses to Withdrawing Tandridge Local Plan Now Would Be ‘Dangerous’

  1. Keith Francis Reply

    January 24, 2023 at 6:29 pm

    Tandridge District Council leader, Cllr Catherine Sayer (Ind and OLRG Alliance, Oxted North & Tandridge) said it was “quite a conflicting set of messages” from central government but that consultants were keen to use the “window of opportunity” to get some sort of plan through.

    I bet the consultants are “keen” looking at all the fees and expenses they will charge Tandridge Council taxpayers.

    Is Mole Valley behaving any differently?

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