Sondes Place Farm, Dorking

We were appointed by Gleeson Land to promote an 8-hectare greenfield site on the edge of Dorking in Mole Valley District. The site is located in the Green Belt and whilst it was not with the Surrey Hills National Landscape, it was agreed to be within its setting.

Our Solutions

We promoted the site through the emerging Mole Valley Local Plan process and the Council accepted that the necessary exceptional circumstances existed to justify the release of some Green Belt land to meet its needs for housing and affordable housing in a sustainable way. More specifically, the Council proposed to allocate the site for approximately 128 homes and school drop-off/car parking provisions for the nearby Priory School.

We appeared at the Local Plan examination in support of the Council’s position, and the Local Plan Inspector’s Interim Findings took no issue with the proposed allocation.

In order to secure permission at the earliest opportunity, whilst promoting the site through the Local Plan we also simultaneously led a multi-disciplinary team in the production and submission of an outline application that was broadly consistent with the emerging allocation in the Local Plan (albeit offering an enhanced level of 50% affordable housing provision), with the intention that the Council could approve the application as soon as it had sufficient comfort from the Local Plan Inspector that the site allocation for housing, and its removal from the Green Belt, was sound.

However, in December 2022 the government published a consultation draft of a revised National Planning Policy Framework that indicated that Councils may have greater flexibility in terms of the housing numbers they were required to accommodate, and may not have to release Green Belt land to meet housing needs. As a consequence, the Council delayed the progression of its emerging Local Plan indefinitely and ultimately refused the submitted application in June 2023 on the basis that the necessary ‘very special circumstances’ for development in the Green Belt had not been demonstrated, and that the impact of the proposals on the character and appearance of the area, including the Surrey Hills National Landscape, was unacceptable.

An appeal was lodged and a Public Inquiry took place in October 2023 at which we gave expert evidence on matters of planning policy/planning balance.

The Outcome

The Inspector allowed the appeal in a decision issued in November 2023, concluding that the harm to the Green Belt, and any other harm, was clearly outweighed by other considerations which, most notably, included the provision of housing and affordable housing in a district with significant and worsening affordability issues.

The strategy to progress an application and appeal ahead of the emerging Local Plan process ultimately ensured that Gleeson Land secured planning permission significantly ahead of other parties promoting housing on land within the Green Belt in Mole Valley District.

Image courtesy of Richards Urban Design