Developer to build 370-homes and a school in Surrey after inspector finds ’very special circumstances’

Developer Berkeley has won a planning appeal that will see it build 370 homes and a school in the heart of the metropolitan green belt in Surrey after an inspector agreed more homes could be built to pay for the school’s construction.

The appeal decision, handed down yesterday by inspector G D Jones, relates to an unallocated green belt site, North Lodge Farm, for 110 homes in Effingham, near Leatherhead, which Guildford council had refused to determine.

Planning approval stamp

Planning lawyers argued the decision, which demonstrated that build cost increases could help generate the “very special circumstances” needed to justify a planning approval on green belt land, could provide a template for other appeals in high-value areas.

The appeal site sits alongside another site for 268 homes and a new secondary school – to be paid for by Berkeley – which was permitted by Sajid Javid on appeal in March 2018. Berkeley had argued that because of build cost increases the school could not now be paid for simply by building out the original permission – and that the additional site was required on top to generate enough cash.

Granting permission for the new scheme, the inspector said that the North Lodge Farm plan demonstrated the required “very special circumstances” for a green belt approval because he had been convinced by Berkeley it was necessary to build out the original permission, which delivered significant benefits.

The inspector said it was common ground that the scheme represented “inappropriate development in the green belt”, and would cause harm to the character of the area, which together “weigh very heavily against the Appeal A development in the Green Belt planning balance, particularly bearing in mind the great importance the Government attaches to Green Belts”.

However, in his decision, G D Jones said: “It is the benefits associated with the delivery of the much-needed approved new school and the provision of new housing, as previously approved and as supplemented by the current proposal, that when taken together would clearly outweigh the totality of harm, including to the Green Belt, […], so that very special circumstances exist.”

However, the inspector also dismissed a simultaneous appeal by Berkeley for a further 99 homes on the original appeal site.

The previous permission had been granted because of the combined weight of the need for housing Guildford – which then lacked a five-year housing supply – and the desperate need for new school places.

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Chris Young KC at No.5 Chambers, who acted for Berkeley, said the decision could help developers address a “major challenge” to funding new schools, given that Community Infrastructure Levy rates were set before recent rises in construction costs.

He said: “This is playing out in neighbouring Kent where the county council are objecting to proposals for new development for failing to deliver enough for education. One way round that would be to allow more development on Green Belt land where land values are often high.

“Each of the 400 houses [on the Berkeley scheme] is delivering an average of £160,000 toward the cost of the school. It could be replicated across the South east of England. This works in the South east of England where land values and house sales values are very high.”

Berkeley declined to comment. Guildford council has been contacted for comment.