High Court allows legal challenge to Guildford local plan to proceed to full hearing

A High Court judge has allowed a judicial review challenge to Guildford Council's adopted 14,600-home local plan to be heard, after objectors' lawyers argued that the strategy includes "massive overprovision" of housing "at the expense of the green belt".

The former Wisley airfield: green belt site allocated in Guildford local plan. Pic: N Chadwick, geograph.org
The former Wisley airfield: green belt site allocated in Guildford local plan. Pic: N Chadwick, geograph.org

In June, two parish councils and a local resident lodged the claim, saying the planning inspector examining Guildford’s local plan had "misinterpreted the meaning of exceptional circumstances in removing land from the green belt for housing".

In April, councillors in Guildford  voted to adopt the local plan which includes three major green belt site allocations for a total of 5,200 homes.

However, Compton Parish Council, Ockham Parish Council and local resident Julian Cranwell believe that green belt land was wrongly removed from the plan, particularly relating to proposed housing allocations at Wisley Airfield and Blackwell Farm.

In a written judgement this week, judge Sir Duncan Ouseley said "the grounds pass the threshold of arguability" and the court will now set a date for a full hearing.

Responding to the news, Jan Harwood, lead councillor for planning, planning policy and housing delivery at the council, said: "On the narrow range of matters that can be argued as part of a statutory challenge, the council is not aware of any lack of lawfulness in the process which led to the decision of the council."

He said that two developers had also been given permission to take part in the challenge, while housing secretary James Brokenshire has "indicated that they intend to take part in the hearing to defend the allegations that the planning inspector erred in his approach".

The plan allocates sites for 14,602 homes between 2015 and 2034, a higher figure than the council's assessed housing need of 10,678.

In his report, planning inspector Jonathan Bore said: "Circumstances may change, and new strategic sites cannot be brought forward quickly to meet revised housing requirements; they have to be planned well in advance.

"Therefore, by making the allocations now, the council have aimed to future proof the plan."

However, in a written submission to the court, Richard Harwood QC, representing the objectors, said "It is simply delivering a strategy of massive overprovision at the expense of the green belt.

"There is no need for these to meet the housing requirements."

A statement from Richard Buxton Solicitors, also representing the objectors, said: "This is an important opportunity for the court to consider what are exceptional circumstances for the removal of land from the green belt in the local plan context."

In May, Sir Paul Beresford, the Conservative MP for Mole Valley, wrote to several Guildford councillors expressing outrage at the "astonishing way" the plan had been adopted in the purdah period before local elections.

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