Sandown Park Appeal Dismissed!

Great news! It has just been announced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that they have upheld the recommendation of the Planning Inspector and dismissed the appeal made by the Jockey Club on the Sandown Park planning application.

Well done to all those who put so much work into objecting to this proposal – in particular Linda Stotesbury and Cllr Richard Williams of the Esher Residents Association. It’s a great day for local residents!

History of the Sandown Campaign

In February 2019, Jockey Club Racecourses Ltd, the owners of Sandown Park, applied for outline planning permission to improve facilities at the course. To do this, they proposed selling some of the land to developers who would build a 150-bedroom hotel and 318 apartments, on the edge of the property, some up to 6 storeys high.

As part of the arrangement they would also create a family/community zone and move the existing day nursery.

Sandown Park lies on Green Belt land and, since 1959, its owners have been denied planning permission on 10 separate occasions – all of which were rejected because they involved building on the Green Belt (other applications not involving building on the Green Belt have been granted).

The ERA has always been implacably opposed to building on the Green Belt. It was one of our founding principles and we have never deviated from it. Leading up to the application, we were strongly in support of Linda Stotesbury’s Save Esher Green Belt campaign and covered progress in our regular newsletters.

Getting permission to build houses on the Green Belt is extremely difficult for developers. They have to prove ‘Very Special Circumstances’, essentially that any harm to the Green Belt is outweighed by the benefits derived from a scheme. Some sporting and educational buildings meet this test, but, ordinarily, housing does not.

It was the ERA’s and Save Esher Greenbelt’s view that improving facilities at a racecourse should not be at the expense of the Green Belt. Residents place enormous value on it, as reflected in a recent consultation for the Local Plan, which showed overwhelmingly that people living in Elmbridge do not want Green Belt land to be given over to building.

The Jockey Club’s argument was that the facilities at Sandown needed major refurbishment for the track to be ‘competitive’ and that selling off land at the extremities of the racecourse would make the future of the racecourse secure for the next 20 years.

When the Jockey Club Racecourses proposals came before the Council’s planning committee, much to almost everyone’s surprise, Elmbridge BC’s planning officers recommended approval. They claimed that, whilst the proposals would constitute inappropriate development, on balance, the provision of affordable housing and the benefits to the community of employment and a new family/community zone outweighed the harm. Officers felt that the ‘Very Special Circumstances’ had been met and councillors should permit building on the Green Belt.

Councillors unanimously rejected the proposals. This led to Jockey Club Racecourses appealing to HM Inspectorate. Such was the importance of the proposals, Robert Jenrick MP Housing, Communities and Local Government minister called in the application, meaning that he would be the final arbiter once he had seen the Inspector’s report.

On 12th May 2021 Robert Jenrick sided with Elmbridge BC’s councillors by agreeing with the Inspector that the appeal should be dismissed.

The Secretary of State’s reasons for dismissing the appeal were based around weighing the advantages of the scheme against harm to the Green Belt and the local character and appearance of the area.

The Inspector’s Conclusions

The Inspector put substantial weight on the harm arising from the inappropriate development in the Green Belt plus the impact on openness and conflict with the purposes of the Green Belt. He also felt that there would be significant harm to the character and appearance of the area.

Balanced against this, he found that the hotel and contribution to land supply including the provision of smaller units carried significant weight in favour of the proposals. The affordable housing and the economic benefits related to housing each carried moderate weight (the plans included 20% affordable housing, which was not policy compliant, and the inspector believed that 45% could be achieved). Limited weight was given to the public benefits of the racecourse improvements, the family/community zone, ecological enhancements and the re-provision of a day nursery.

Consequently, he found that the benefits of the scheme would not outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the harm to the character and appearance of the area and that the scheme did not meet the ‘Very Special Circumstances’ test.

The rejection of the Sandown Park proposals was a major victory for Elmbridge residents who live under constant fear from developers wishing to put housing on their Green Belt. As this decision comes from H M Inspectorate and the Secretary of State, it has now established a valuable precedent that should give greater protection to other locally, and nationally, threatened Green Belt tracts.

The Secretary of State’s and Inspector’s reports can be found here.

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