Surrey council gets 'stinging rebuke' after another delay to 7,000 home Elmbridge Local Plan

Outside view of Elmbridge Civic Centre, Esher.
-Credit: (Image: Emily Coady-Stemp)


Planning errors by Elmbridge Borough Council forced it to plea for the examination of its 7,000 home masterplan to be delayed. The council was slapped with a "stinging rebuke" by the planning inspector after she reluctantly agreed to push back the public examination of the planning bible, known as its local plan, because the authority had miscounted the number of homes in the borough.

Local plans are crucial for councils as they set out where and what type of development is allowed in the borough. Without one, developers effectively have carte blanche to build where they wish, be it town centre high rises or precious green belt land. Elmbridge Borough Council's local plan will cover of where, as well as the type, 7,000 homes will be built in the borough over the next 15 years.

Now though, an error in how the council measured the space for new homes forced it to go begging to the planning inspector pleading to delay its examination until June. Writing to the inspector, the council said it had “discovered persistent anomalies” in its dataset and needed to “comprehensively recast…from scratch”.

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Failure to start all over would have “led to unreliable evidence” rendering it useless. The letter read: “The council appreciates that this will cause unwelcome delay and disruption to the examination, for which the council sincerely apologises and would not make this request unless it were absolutely necessary.

“The council is anxious to adopt an up-to-date plan and wishes for the examination to continue as swiftly as possible." The council would later expand on its letter and explain that “persistent anomalies” related to the amount of planning permission it had granted and how many were under construction.

The planning inspector told the council they had already been alerted to the fact that this would need to be cleared as far back as September 2023, February 2024, and again with a follow up email. The inspector told the council: “Nevertheless, given the clear recognition within your letter that this is an unwelcome and ill timed delay, I am minded to pause the examination until the week commencing June 16 2024.”

Councillor John Cope, group leader of the Conservative opposition group on Elmbridge Borough Council said: “The repeated delays and errors on the local plan over the last half decade have been entirely avoidable.” He said he has spoken up several times in the council chamber questioning the credibility of the various draft local plans

He said: “They’ve listed our fire stations, car parks, hospitals, playgrounds, and community centres for demolition and high-rise blocks. Not only would that destroy our area, but it’s simply not realistic. They should use this stinging rebuke from the planning inspector to go back to the drawing board and come back with a local plan myself and local people can support. That means ruling out concreting over the green belt while prioritising brownfield sites for genuinely affordable housing that has infrastructure to support it.”

A spokesperson for Elmbridge Borough Council said: “To support the adoption of the Elmbridge draft local plan, we have asked the planning inspector for an adjournment with the examination in public to ensure the data around housing and land supply is as robust as possible.

“We are appreciative of the planning inspector in granting this request, which won’t detrimentally affect the overall timetable, as the examination of this data will now take place during the already programme June examination dates.”

Leader of Elmbridge Borough Council, Cllr Mike Rollings, said: "The Draft Local Plan was voted for unanimously by all 48 Borough Councillors.

"It is understandable that when asked by the Inspector to provide updated numbers Elmbridge should take the time to prepare and check the accuracy of those numbers so that they can withstand public scrutiny.”

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