Hundreds of residents objecting to a major housing development on school playing fields are “horrified” at the prospect of not having their views considered if the Government strips one Surrey council of its powers to approve or reject planning applications. 

Epsom and Ewell Borough Council’s planning authority is at risk of being put into “special measures” after scoring badly in performance tables. 

This could mean that applications such as for 161 homes on playing fields at Epsom and Ewell High School in Ruxley Lane which has received more than 900 objections could be determined by a planning inspectorate and not at a local level. 

One leading Residents’ Association member says this raises concerns about the scrutiny of applications and means residents will be denied their democratic right. 

According to recently published statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) Epsom and Ewell’s rating on quality of decisions made in the past two years placed it at risk of ‘designation’. 

The council now faces being stripped of its powers to authorise blocks of flats or builds of 10 or more houses and control to approve planning applications going to a Government planning inspectorate. 

Jean Steer, chairman of West Ewell and Ruxley Residents’ Association, said: “First of all the residents of this ward would be horrified to be told they could not make representation to the planning department on planning applications.

“We are very concerned to be denied this democratic right.  We are still a democracy in this country I believe.

“We are deeply concerned about scrutiny of planning applications if the council is stripped of those powers by the Secretary of State. 

“The residents would be appalled to find out that developers would be able to make decisions bypassing the planning department.  

Local planning authorities are responsible for approving or refusing planning applications. 

All major development planning applications are determined by the planning committee (made up of elected local councillors), applying a set of national and local rules and criteria.

If schemes are refused at this local level, applicants can appeal directly to the government’s Planning Inspectorate.

Under government regulations, if over a period of two years 10 per cent or more major planning applications – schemes of 10 or more homes – are refused and subsequently the decision is overturned on appeal, the authority can be put into special measures (designation).

In the last 24 months, Epsom and Ewell Borough Council received 30 major planning applications.

Of these, three applications were refused by councillors for a variety of reasons as being unsuitable for the borough, but were subsequently allowed on appeal.

As this is 10 per cent of the total number of those refused, it exceeds the Government threshold and so Epsom & Ewell Borough Council remains at risk of designation.

The three applications refused at local level but allowed on appeal were 17 flats in Cheam Road, 10 flats in Cox Lane and 14 flats in Chase Road. All three were reported to the planning committee in 2016. 

Chase Road was refused on grounds the flats would lead to a loss of employment floor space, insufficient on-site parking and not enough affordable housing. 

Cheam Road was refused due to its height and over-development and not enough affordable housing. 

And Cox Lane was refused due to loss of privacy for neighbours, not enough parking or affordable housing. 

Cllr Clive Woodbridge, chair of the council’s planning committee, said they have already made a number of “significant improvements” to improve the quality of decision making and since 2017 they have been careful not to exceed the 10 per cent threshold. 

The council can now respond to the ministry and provide any extra data or exceptional circumstances around its performance before the secretary of state decides to confirm the designation in the autumn. 

Once an authority is put into special measures developers can either apply directly to the planning authority or the council is provided with support from the ministry to improve its performance.