Land, plan and a scam mess for Tandridge

Catherine Sayer Tandridge District Council leader. Image credit Darren Pepe/Surrey Live. Cleared for use by LDRS partners.

A land scam, £3.5million spent and residents being “ignored” have come to a head as a district council finally looks set to call an end to its 6,000-home local plan.

As well as uneven development between the north and south of Tandridge, councillors raised concerns about the draft plan not looking enough at necessary infrastructure.

After a drawn-out process including hearings in public, the abandoned garden village planned for Godstone and terse public exchanges with the government’s planning inspector, the council’s leader declared the plan “dead”.

A meeting of the district council’s planning policy committee on Thursday (September 21) decided to ask the inspector for a final report, despite an additional bill of around £12,000, rather than withdrawing the plan.

Of the options in front of members, the council’s leader said: “In either case, the plan is dead.”

The inspector told the council in July he did not “see a route to soundness for the local plan”, but at a meeting after that the council put forward options to find a way forward.

The local plan, which set out where and when homes will be built across the district until 2033, was submitted to government for examination in January 2019.

There was a change of administration in May 2021, when a minority administration of residents’ associations took control of the council.

The current leader, Councillor Catherine Sayer (Residents’ Alliance, Oxted North and Tandridge), said she thought the local plan system was “totally unfit for purpose”.

With a government funding bid for works to improve junction 6 of the M25 failing, central to the plans for a new garden village, she said there was “a big question mark over why the planning inspector did not end the process at that point”.

Cllr Sayer told the meeting: “In an attempt to avoid ending up with no plan at all and the threat that would mean to the green belt together with a huge waste of taxpayers’ money, we tried to salvage something.
“We proposed amendments and deleted the garden community and attempted to do whatever else the planning inspector had indicated might make the plan acceptable.”

The leader also told the meeting it was “common knowledge” that some of the green belt land planned for the garden community had been part of a land scam where more than 350 small plots were sold on an investment basis.

She said: “Most of the owners are believed to reside in India and Pakistan. To enable the garden community to go ahead, it would have been likely that the council would have needed to use its compulsory purchase powers to assemble the land.”

She said asking for a report from the inspector could “bring some kind of useful closure to what is such an unhappy and costly chapter for Tandridge District”.

Councillor Jeremy Pursehouse (Independent, Warlingham East Chelsham & Farleigh) said he was “very sad to see the demise of the garden community” which he said balanced out planned development across the north and the south of district. He said: “We can’t put everything in Warlingham and Caterham, it just doesn’t work like that. It will just make people who are living in suburban areas further away from the green of the countryside, we have to share these things around.”

He said the north of the district did not have the infrastructure for the kinds of development being looked at in the plan.

Councillor Mick Gillman (Residents’ Alliance, Burstow, Horne & Outwood) said he lived in the south of the district, which did not have the railways of the north, and described the A22 as “a car park much of the time”. He added: “It’s driven by infrastructure, and you’ve got to put a lot of money into the infrastructure in the south to get it up to speed.”

But he also highlighted his reasons he thought it was important to get a report from the inspector.
Cllr Gillman said the council owed it to residents to justify why more than £3.5m had been spent on “something that has failed”. He added: “What’s even more concerning to me is many of the reasons that the inspector flagged up were those that were flagged up by residents in the consultation process and they were ignored. And I think residents need to know that they did not get it wrong, and it was the organisation within the council that got it wrong.”

The meeting unanimously agreed to ask the inspector for a report, rather than withdrawing the plan, and will recommend this to council. Full council will debate the next steps for the plan, its next scheduled meeting is on Thursday, October 19.

Photo: Catherine Sayer Tandridge District Council leader. Image credit Darren Pepe/Surrey Live.