Draft Tandridge council plan to be scrapped after previously halting work on the document

A Surrey green belt council which sought to delay work on its local plan in light of recent government policy changes has been told by a planning inspector the draft strategy is unsound and will have to be scrapped.

The decision by the planning inspector in the examination of Tandridge council’s draft plan brings to a close a four-year examination – one of the longest in England – and comes despite the council claiming it still wants to get its plan, on which it has spent over £3m, adopted.

Green belt land

The decision also comes amid increasing concern from the development industry over the state of local plan formation in England in the wake of recent government policy changes, with the Home Builders Federation recently claiming that 59 local authorities had put local plan work on hold.

Tandridge submitted its plan, which proposed delivering 303 homes per year between 2013 and 2033, for examination in 2019, but the strategy came unstuck in 2020 when the inspector, Philip Lewis, said more work was needed to ensure local roads weren’t overwhelmed by proposals for a 4,000-home garden town.

Following the government signalling it was backtracking on pro-development planning reforms, the green belt authority last autumn voted to pause work on the strategy “pending clarification of future government policy”.

In March, following the publication by the government of proposed national planning policy reforms, the council said it wanted to get a reduced plan approved, without the garden town, and “consisting of deliverable sites which are capable of being found sound and within the limits of existing infrastructure capacity”.

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The council admitted in its March letter that: “We are also very aware that not having an interim Local Plan in place […] will leave the Council open to speculative and inappropriate planning applications on Green Belt land which will be financially damaging to the Council due to having to defend against these applications at appeal. We believe that would be a very poor outcome for the Council and for the residents of Tandridge.”

The inspector replied in June that this approach had a huge number of problems, not least that it amounted to a re-writing of the plan through the examination process, and that large parts of the evidence base were now out-of-date. Nevertheless, he agreed to a last-ditch procedural meeting in July to see if it was possible to find a way forward.

However, following that, Lewis has now written to the council saying the problems have not been resolved and he has no option but to “write my report of the examination within which I would recommend that the Plan is unsound and that it is not adopted.” He recommended the council withdraw the plan in order to save the costs incurred from him writing the letter.

He said: “It is clear to me that given the nature of the soundness issues which need to be addressed, and the effects of the protracted examination, there is no simple or rapid route to soundness. Indeed, the Council’s approach would only serve to protract the examination further and could give rise to a situation where further uncertainty arises.”

The council said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with the outcome of the procedural meeting, at which it felt a “pragmatic solution was presented for the plan”.

The council added: “The Council has worked hard to address the Inspector’s concerns about the plan, proposing various amendments, including the removal of the Garden Community from the plan.

“The Council still has development plans and policies in place which will help guard against the risk of unsuitable planning development and protect the Green Belt which covers 94% of the district.”