Report by John Gray, Waverley Borough Councillor for Chiddingfold & Dunsfold
I had the pleasure of sitting through the whole of the hearing after the call-in of the planning application for 1,800 homes at Dunsfold Park so felt it may be of interest to share some of my thoughts.
Firstly let me compliment Protect Our Waverley (POW), lead by Bob Lees, Lynne Hamill and Chris Britton, and the Joint Parish Councils (JPC), lead by Charles Orange and Beverley Weddell, for their herculean efforts to match the combined forces of Dunsfold Airport Ltd (DAL) and Waverley Borough Council. It was obvious to all, including the Inspector, that the money spend was weighted heavily in favour of DAL and Waverley. That said the arguments were much more equally expressed. The POW and JPC team batted first with an excellent opening statement from their QC, Paul Stinchcombe, followed by the evidence of their experts covering landscape, transport and planning.
Once the evidence had been given by each expert, first Waverley’s and then DAL’s legal teams cross-examined them. The DAL legal team took the lead on trying to break down the credibility of each witness. The questions were relentless; they were probing and aimed at undermining the evidence submitted. The major thrust of the POW/JPC case was the unsustainability of the site as found by the then Government’s rejection in 2009 of housing on Dunsfold Park. They emphasised ‘sustainability’ as the golden thread running through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). However as the NPPF had come into force since 2009 the DAL team argued strongly that the proposed housing was now sustainable because the rules had changed and the need for housing trumped all.
Before Waverley brought in their evidence a number of residents and representatives of organisations addressed the Inspector in open session. Most of the points were directed at traffic and the harm caused by the increase in cars and lorries from the proposed new settlement. Air pollution at Bramley was also mentioned as was the failure of traffic lights in Bramley to solve the congestion problem the last time it was trialled. Some compelling points were made as to the minor roads with single and narrow sections being unsuitable for the inevitable rat runs that would result from the proposed 1,800 and 2,600 (Local Plan) homes. It was emphasised that Cranleigh residents were suffering from flooding and sewage problems and it was argued the proposed infrastructure was not up to coping with this massive growth in population. One presenter gave evidence of cycling down Markwick Lane and being forced off the road suffering severe injuries. Objections were also made by the Shalford Cricket Club who have a lot of juniors on the pitch next to the A281 who would suffer from the increased pollution from standing vehicles.
Waverley evidence was presented in a rather matter of fact delivery and largely repeated evidence submitted in writing to the Inspector. Much was made of the fact that the Inspector in the Local Plan enquiry accepted the spatial strategy including Dunsfold Park. Also that Surrey County Council Highways had endorsed the local plan and had agreed road improvements which would improve traffic flows. In cross-examination, it was argued that the Local Plan Inspector had not agreed that Dunsfold Park was sustainable, that the approval of the Local Plan was at a high level and it was down to this Inspector to review the application in detail and come to his own decision.
DAL’s QC stated that the proposed Dunsfold Park settlement was more sustainable than the 11 parishes represented by the JPC. His experts put the case for how the landscape would not be marred by the new settlement in views from the Surrey Hills, rather it would return an element of tranquillity, eliminating planes and car racing. Their transport expert argued that in his view the POW/JPC evidence sought to present the worst case on the increase in traffic and congestion. There would be more internal trips due to on site employment and the positive impact of the extensive road improvements had been understated by POW/JPC. He also suggested that there would be little or no impact from lorries (HGVs) as they had already identified that this was not a problem today and would be only marginally impacted by the growth. DAL’s QC also argued that putting shops, a school and a surgery with an in perpetuity bus service would make the site sustainable. All the new jobs would be facilitated by the new houses. The employees would benefit from being able to live on site, spend time in the country park and cycle and walk to work.
Paul Stinchcombe on cross examination for POW/JPC made some measured points on the reliance of all the proposals being delivered and working as planned. The view from Surrey Hills would, he argued, be damaged and the new settlement and its towers and parking barns would be out of character and stand out and spoil the view. It was a leap of faith to accept that traffic would not be a problem, rat runs would be created and greater use would be made of narrow and single track roads. The road changes at Shalford would require the release of common land and this would be uncertain and, even if achievable, would take a long time. The shops may be built but would they be occupied and would the NHS accept the cost of providing a surgery as no commitment has been given? He repeatedly argued that the bus service would require a more substantial subsidy than proposed by DAL and an operator had yet to be secured. DAL defended all the points made, but has the inspector formed the view that there are serious risks and uncertainties?
During the closing of the Inquiry, possibly at the request of the Inspector, Waverley announced it had a five year housing supply without Dunsfold Park. This was not helpful to DAL as they had argued the need for Dunsfold Park homes to make up the five year supply and how this affected the interpretation of the NPPF.
The Inspector never revealed his views but showed a keen understanding of the issues and the role he has in the decision process as against the role of the Local Plan Inspector. POW and JPC announced at the end that they would ask the Secretary of State to call in the Local Plan for his determination. This would allow the Secretary of State the unique opportunity of being able to review the planning application for the Dunsfold Park new settlement and the allocation in the Local plan of 46% of housing to the east of Waverley (with 2,600 homes on Dunsfold Park), at the same time.
I hope I have a given a flavour of issues presented for review by the Inspector. I have many pages of notes but I have chosen to give my reflections of the proceedings from memory, rather than a blow by blow account of the 9 days. Just one last thing regarding the diligence of the Inspector. He announced he would return to examine the roads once the schools were back after the summer holiday which proves he wants to be fair.