In a system where a large proportion of councils fail to plan for enough new houses; you have to feel sorry for Waverley. The Council is being dragged through the courts for trying to do the right thing - namely adopting a local plan which not only allocates housing for its own needs, but some of its neighbour's.
The Council's legal troubles began last year,* when a local pressure group (Protect our Waverley or 'POW' for short*$), and the CBRE, challenged the newly adopted local plan in the High Court. The Council was defending its local plan from attack because of modifications suggested by the Examining Inspector at the Inquiry.
The Council's submitted draft local plan made no allowance at all for the unmet housing need in Woking, which the Inspector considered to be "not a sound position". Particularly as the only developable areas left in Woking were in the green belt. Waverley Council, whilst also containing protected designations, was considered to be significantly less constrained and as such, the Inspector suggested a modification to increase the housing numbers in the plan, to account for 50% of Woking's unmet housing need. Waverley Council, in a fit of neighbourliness, adopted the plan with the modification in place. The decision to include the uplift was challenged, on the basis that it had been made for "inexplicable and perverse" reasons.
In November last year, the case was heard in the Planning Court by Nathalie Lieven QC, who found in favour of the Council and upheld the Inspector's decision.**
She found that:
"The 50% allocation to Waverley does appear to be a crude one but cannot possibly be said to be outside a reasonable planning judgement, given that Waverley is undoubtedly considerably less constrained in terms of Green Belt and AONB than is Guildford or Woking, see IR27. Again, unless the Inspector had carried out a detailed investigation of Guildford's housing supply situation he had no choice but to take a fairly broad brush approach. There was no policy obligation to carry out the kind of arithmetical exercise that the Claimants require. Given the more constrained policy position in the other two authorities it may well be that the 50% allocation was a fairly conservative figure for Waverley. I do not accept Mr Stinchcombe's argument that there is no nexus between the 83dpa figure and the 50% allocation. As I have said the Inspector was carrying out a fairly broad brush analysis. If the figure of 83dpa was found in the future to be somewhat high, the 50% allocation to Waverley might well be relatively low. Neither figure was amenable to any precise calculation and was fundamentally one of planning judgement. "*^
"In respect of the reasons challenge, I think the Inspector's reasons were perfectly adequate, considering the factors set out by Lord Brown in South Bucks v Porter. The IR was primarily written to a knowledgeable audience, certainly in respect of the Claimants and their supporters. It is also relevant that it is a report written for a Local Plan examination, not an s.78, and that context necessarily means that the reasons will be less extensive than in a major s.78 inquiry, and not every participant's arguments will be dealt with in comprehensive terms. This is virtually always the case and can be seen in the contrast between Inspector Bore's report and that of Inspector Major. To place a requirement on a Local Plan inspector to set out the level of detail which is normally in a s.78 decision would be to impose an unreasonable, and ultimately unnecessary burden. The critical point is that the central justification or reasons for the Inspector's conclusions are clear on the level of housing requirement in the LPP1. In my view they are here – it is clear why he reached the figure he did on unmet need." *&
In response to which, I can only imagine that Waverley Council breathed a huge sigh of relief. Unfortunately, that relief has turned out to be short lived.
Yesterday, Planning Resource reported that the CBRE and POW have been granted permission to appeal the November 2018 ruling, and the case is now headed to the Court of Appeal (see link below for the full article).
From the press statement issued by POW, it appears as if the pressure group has not lost its appetite for a proverbial punch-up. Their spokesman stated:
"POW fought against the housing requirement at the examination of the plan. POW fought again in the High Court. POW will fight in the Court of Appeal. POW is fighting to protect our Waverley against unneeded development of our towns, of our villages and in our beautiful countryside."
The Court of Appeal hearing is likely to take place later this year, and it is not only the fate of Waverley's Local Plan that now hangs in the balance, several recently made neighbourhood plans will also stand or fall with it.
For now, at least, the Battle of Waverley looks set to wage on. Personally, I can't help but root for the Council, who are trying to do their bit to solve the housing crisis and allocate sufficient housing for the local market area. I am also holding onto a very forlorn hope that, given the names of the parties, the Court of Appeal Judgment includes at least one classic batman reference*$....
*$ This acronym is the sole reason for my choice of blog title. Yes, I am that much of a nerd....I spent many lazy Sundays watching repeats of the 1960s series on TV. This may have caused long-lasting damage, or at least a desire for someone to actually invent 'bat shark repellent' and a belief that Adam West is one true Batman...
Campaign groups CPRE Surrey and the Protect Our Waverley (POW) Campaign have been given permission to appeal a High Court ruling last year that rejected their bids to overturn the council’s local plan. The Court of Appeal decision paves the way for a hearing later this year which will see CPRE Surrey and POW Campaign argue that Waverley should not be required to accommodate half of neighbouring Woking Borough Council’s unmet housing need. .... The plan provides for at least 11,210 new homes from 2013 to 2032, equivalent to 590 homes per annum. This includes catering for half of neighbouring Woking Council’s unmet need, which adds a further 83 homes per year to the housing target. At last year's hearing, CPRE argued that inspector Jonathan Bore's recommendation ... was made for "inexplicable and perverse" reasons.