A CHARITY’S bid to build almshouses – low-rent community housing – in West End has been stalled by wildlife conservation rules.

A planning application by Chobham Poor Allotments for a terrace of six one-bedroom homes was deferred principally because the site is too close to a heathland protection area.

Surrey Heath Borough Council’s planning committee was told by officers that an objection from Government advisory body Natural England, supported by Surrey Wildlife Trust, could not be overcome.

The site for the almshouses, a field designated as Green Belt land between Church Road and Windlesham Road, is within 400 metres of Brentmoor Heath, which is part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area.

There must be extra special reasons for development to be allowed so close, a policy that is usually upheld by the council.

The case for building almshouses on the land was argued by Windlesham and Chobham councillor Pat Tedder, who is a trustee of the charity and also a trustee of the WC Lees Resthouses charity, which built the almhouses at Windlesham.

She said almshouses were a “strange beast” obviously not understood by Natural England, which had indicated it would probably support a care home or housing for disabled Blue Badge holders on the site. There was a proven need for one-bedroom homes in West End and Chobham and almshouse vacancies always attracted more applications than the places available.

“The six dwellings will not impact on the SPA,” she said. “It’s a unique opportunity to free up social housing in the area which is being occupied by a single tenant.”

The application is supported, with reservations and conditions, by West End Parish Council and West End Society. Thirteen people sent letters of support and one personal objection has been made.

Committee member Adrian Page, who is also a West End parish councillor, generally supported the plan, saying there was a proven need for the small homes that would be provided. 

His fellow village borough and parish councillor and committee colleague Graham Alleway also supported the application but with reservations. He said the layout needed to be changed so that the homes did not face south and other adjustments were required.

Committee members Victoria Wheeler and Valerie White both said the plan should be approved under special circumstances.

Cllr Wheeler said the main A322 Guildford Road between the field and the heathland would be a sufficient buffer between the almshouses and the protected wildlife.

Cllr White said: “This is the first time we have had a proper definition of affordable housing. Natural England need to understand the need for affordable housing.”

Committee chairman Edward Hawkins said the council had to be governed by the advice of Natural England and its own policies. He proposed deferring a decision on the application for further discussions to take place.

The council’s development manager, Jonathan Partington, warned that approval could set a precedent that would benefit developers seeking to build in the SPA buffer zone.

The committee voted by five to five on deferment, but Cllr Hawkins used his casting vote to pass the proposal.