Tandridge District Council’s Controversial Plans Officially Torpedoed!
Tandridge District Council’s controversial plans to build over 6000 homes has been officially torpedoed – and it’s highly contentious proposal for a massive “garden community” in the Green Belt at South Godstone effectively sunk.
An official Government inspector, who must judge such plans “sound” if they are to proceed, has written the Council saying he cannot do so. He has given it two options: scrapping its Local Plan altogether and starting again; or pausing it and embarking on a lengthy process of trying to make it comply with Government policy, but with no guarantee of success.
His verdict is a devastating blow to the Council, and a huge embarrassment both to Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors who have combined to try to push the plan through, at enormous financial cost, despite repeated warnings from resident groups and developers alike that it was fundamentally flawed and bound to fail.
Widespread public opposition to the plan has already caused the Conservatives to lose control of the Council after two decades in charge, and it is likely to become a pivotal issue at the next council elections, scheduled for May. Independents who have long opposed the plan could, as a result, form the largest bloc in the Council for the first time.
The inspector’s long-awaited judgement – in an 18 page letter to the council setting out his “preliminary conclusions and advice” following public hearings at the end of 2019 – is harsh on both the plan as a whole and on the proposals for the 4,000 home Garden Community, a new town the size of Oxted concreting over hundreds of acres of pristine countryside.
He says that it is “uncertain which, if any, of the Plan’s proposals” for development could go ahead without having “severe” impacts on the local transport network which would “not be consistent with national policy”. And he adds: “I can only conclude that the Plan is unsound and that there is clearly no path to making it so.”
He particularly condemns the proposed South Godstone Garden Community and a much smaller proposed development to the West of Godstone, saying that they cannot be considered to be “deliverable or developable” as Government policy requires.
Central to his judgement is the state of the M25’s Junction 6 which is already at capacity and would be overwhelmed by the extra traffic generated by the Garden Community. All sides have accepted that it must be improved as a precondition of the development, but this would be extremely expensive and the scheme at South Godstone cannot bear the cost.
The Council applied to the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund for £57 million to improve Jn 6 and the junction of the A22 and A264 at Felbridge, so as make the development possible. But, as reported in these pages in August, the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government rejected the bid because it did not “demonstrate sufficient value for money for the taxpayer” due to the congestion traffic from the garden community would cause on local roads.
The Council is expected to make another bid, but this is thought unlikely to succeed. And the inspector says that – even if it did – he is unconvinced that the garden community would make a significant contribution to housing under the plan or that he would “be able ultimately to find it sound.”
The inspector’s verdict and the problem of Junction 6 should force a reconsideration of the district’s entire development strategy. They would also apply to a developer’s proposals for a ‘garden community’ at Blindley Heath, which the Council has already rejected as “unsustainable”. Logically this review should lead to a shift in emphasis towards Caterham and Redhill, where infrastructure and jobs for new residents are much more accessible.
By Geoffrey Lean