The majority of you will know that on the 29th January the Councillors who make up the Planning Committee approved the application from Cala Homes to build 297 dwellings on the land at Brookwood Farm. I came away from the meeting both angry and disappointed.
Angry because the Council Officers totally ignored those people who current live around Sparvell Road, Oak Tree Road and Coresbrook Way. It is these residents who will suffer the most from the increased traffic, its related noise and air pollution.
All the Councillors who spoke during the debate expressed reservations with the data included in the Planning Officers report on traffic levels. Although there was unanimity amongst the Councillors for a deferment once the Deputy Chief Executive, Head of Legal Services and Head of Planning applied verbal pressure on the Councillors not to vote for a deferment and accept the plan the majority caved in. All those Councillors not directly connected with Knaphill or Brookwood fell under the pressure and voted against a deferral and for the plan.
So yes disappointed with the fact that the Councillors did not stand by the views they expressed when they spoke for a deferment.
Why was so much pressure exerted on the Councillors? I believe there were two main reasons, first the Council have set themselves a target of 4,964 new dwellings between 2010 and 2027 (an annual average of 292 per annum). Secondly money, around two thirds of the land to be developed is owned by Woking Borough Council and that will now be sold to Cala Homes. That money will go to pay off a loan that the Council took out to pay for the work that was carried out in the Hoe Valley close to the Leisure Centre and Westfield Avenue.
Why were Councillors seeking a deferment? The Planning Officers report, the main document that is being debated and voted on, is only produced a week prior to the meeting and therefore there is not a lot of time to take on board all the detail that goes into a major development like Brookwood Farm. Let me put into context, in the past the Planning Committee deferred to a second meeting the applications to develop the Clifton’s site in the centre of the village and the extension to Sainsbury’s in Redding Way. Brookwood Farm is a much bigger development than either of the above and therefore why was the Deputy Chief Executive so opposed to the Councillors deferring a decision until they fully understood the proposal that the Planning Department and Surrey Highways were putting forward? That is a question for Woking Council to answer.
Unless a Councillor has been following the debate since the application was submitted last April then they rely on the Planning Officers report being accurate and objectively cover all aspects of the application. This report failed to achieve that objective.
For example The Planning Officers report states that there will only be a 33% increase in traffic levels going down Sparvell Road towards Bagshot Road between todays figure and the traffic levels once the development is completed. In words of the County’s Road Planning Manager an average of one additional vehicle per minute during peak times. Compare that with the figures in the Transport Assessment, a report produced by consultants as part of the preparation for the production of the Planning Officer’s report. The Transport Assessment shows an increase of 127% in the morning peak and 133% in the evening peak. The Councillors, and ourselves, wanted a deferment so that those differences could be investigated.
Another example of where the Planning Officers got it wrong. With reference to the length of the queuing traffic from the Brookwood traffic lights back up the Bagshot Road. The report states;-
‘The applicant’s Transport Assessment acknowledges that Bagshot Road is already heavily trafficked and that queuing develops, particularly at Brookwood Crossroad during peak hours to the extent that occasionally, southbound queue at the crossroads block the Redding Way signal.’
What a complete understatement, the queue is regularly beyond The Broadway never mind Redding Way.
There is a legal requirement that where a developer wants to build close to a heavily congested road they have to make recommendations on changes that will not significantly add to that congestion. In April 2012 I along with other representatives of local residents associations plus a number of Councillors met with Iain Reeve, Assistant Director Strategy, Transport & Planning and Greg Devine, Road Planning Manager both from Surrey County Council. We asked whether they believed the traffic management plan proposed by Cala Homes would somehow mean that the additional traffic would not add to the congestion. The response was that the proposed changes to the traffic light systems were unproven and that in their opinion would not meet the expectations of the developer. So what has changed between April 2012 and January 2013? As far as I know Cala Homes have not changed their proposed modification to the traffic lights systems. Maybe the KRA should invite Mr Reeve to another meeting so he can explain the change in the position of his department.
People have been asking where can we go from here. We the residents do not have the right of appeal. The only people who have the right of appeal to a decision made by the Planning Committee are those who submit the application. So if the Councillors on the Planning Committee had rejected Cala’s application Cala Homes could appeal and that would have gone to a Planning Inspector and probably a public inquiry. I cannot see how, following a public inquiry a Planning Inspector could have come up with a worse result than the one we got on the 29th.
This does not mean that the KRA will give up the fight, we have already asked Woking’s Head of Planning to explain the difference in figures for traffic in Sparvell Road.
We will keep you informed of any information that we are able to obtain.