The Issues in Context

Guildford Borough Council have put in place a draft Local Plan. Some of the proposals from the issues and options consultation have changed. It is no longer proposed (at present) to remove Shere or Gomshall from the Green Belt – the proposal known as “insetting”. Also, the settlement boundaries of the villages will be changed less than previously proposed (although there will still be changes, both to Gomshall and to Shere, and the boundary changes do extend the edges of the villages quite markedly). This change may be due to the extent of public comment previously, so do keep the letters going! The boundaries will be re-drawn to include adjoining fields surrounding both villages but the area is smaller. The maps are shown on the Local Plan page.

Guildford Borough Council is still asking if it should do more work to assess potential development areas around other villages and settlements, including Albury, Shere, Farley Green, Gomshall, Peaslake (which has suddenly been reclassified as a “large” village) and Holmbury St Mary. (p 78). This means putting development – buildings – in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty outside the settlement areas. We do not want them to consider this, because when the development consultant looks at fields, they find sites for houses. The answer to this is NO.

Also note that both Peaslake and Holmbury St Mary have had very substantial increases to the settlement area. Please don’t think that because Peaslake seemed unaffected by the first Issues and Options consultation this means that there is no cause for concern; the boundaries have increased, and any area within the settlement area is now able to be considered for development. You can object to this through the consultation process.

One way we have to resist this is technical. We need to give evidence to the planners that the open character of our villages contributes to the openness of the Green Belt, and also that the existing settlement boundaries are real boundaries to the villages. To keep the existing boundaries – we have to show that the existing boundaries are definite, and capable of being “permanent”. But we also have to point out the stupidity of these rules to the politicians that drafted it so that the law is changed. It currently means that small compact villages may not be included in the Green Belt because they are not “open”. We should not be looking for possible new boundaries to villages – if they have existing boundaries, these should be recognised.

The planning consultants chosen by Guildford Borough Council specialise in assisting developers – Pegasus, GL Hearn, Edge Analytics, Churchill & Churchill. Some of these planners advertise their success in getting development into AONB areas, acting on behalf of developers. Why did GBC choose them? They are proposing to spend more of our public money in using these consultants to promote the plan that theses consultants have drawn up at the public enquiry. Why? This is not impartial evidence sifted and weighed by politicians on our behalf – this is a developmental agenda, driven by developmental consultants and supported by a passive council.

Most of the Green Belt villages in the borough are in a worse position than Shere, Gomshall, Peaslake or Abinger or our other villages. While we should be pleased that our particular back yard is threatened less at present, we should remain vigilant. The extent of the problem is NOT A GOOD THING! 16 villages are being taken out of the Green Belt out of 24 villages in the borough. There are threats to put around 9000 on Green Belt land between Leatherhead and Aldershot, 6000 of which would be between Leatherhead and Guildford. Guildford Borough Council are proposing to put 13040 homes in the borough over the next 16 years, in the period to 2031. This could turn the north of our borough into a conurbation like the corridor through Kingston and West Byfleet to Woking and Camberley.

The plans which they have put forward in the consultation document include the old Wisley Airfield at Ockham – now open fields – which is proposed to take a new town of 2,100 houses, “absorbing” the idyllic hamlet of Ockham, which is currently a conservation area. Effingham (310 new houses ) is struggling to stop merging into Bookham. At Bookham, landowners and developers have offered a total of 25 Green Belt sites, most of which are situated in the gap between Effingham and Bookham. At Effingham itself, there are proposals that the Howard of Effingham school might be moved on to green fields, and if so the existing school site and playing fields would be used for new houses. The pretty village of West Horsley is expected to take 534 houses. East Horsley is expected to take more. Clandon is expected to take a new secondary school next to the station, with huge consequences for traffic along the main road. There are 2500 houses proposed for Gosden Hill Farm on the outskirts of Guildford, and more for Shalford and for Chilworth. Chilworth will expand eastward toward Shere and westward towards Shalford. At Shalford, there are proposals to build on 174 homes on Chinthurst Hill, currently managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, which will damage the view from the Chantries – from there, Guildford will have a view over housing. On the other side of Guildford, heading west, UniS wants to build ~2500 homes at Blackwell Farm on the slopes of the Hogs Back. The area includes ANOB and AGLV land and is green belt, but more importantly, the entire farm forms part of the spectacular panorama that can be seen from the top of the chalk ridge – an iconic landscape feature and reputedly England’s oldest road. There are plans to put many more houses near Normandy and Flexford, Fairlands and Compton, and to put a large amount of land in that area into “safeguarded” status – which in this Orwellian world means available for developers if other land is not used or becomes unavailable.. Compton – another AONB village which has the Watts Gallery – have 5-6 million vehicles passing through each year already, and the buildings on the Hogs’ Back (partly in the parish of Compton) would mean another 3,000-4000 cars joining the network each day. We should not look at each field as a separate matter, but look at the consultation as a whole. We should look at the incredible scale of the damage that is being proposed. This damage will be in the next 16 years- and it will be reviewed again in 5 years. We cannot be complacent.

If this development is allowed, then the Green Belt around London will be destroyed, and forever. What EM Forster – an Abinger resident – called “the creeping red rust of London” will cover the beautiful Surrey Hills. They will be gone, and London will join up with Aldershot.

We are not NIMBYs. We do not just care about this because we live here but because we know how important the Green Belt is, to us and to everyone else who comes here, and for all the residents of London. All the residents across this borough, in both town and countryside, are joining together to campaign against this appalling damage to the Green Belt. We do not accept that there is not enough brownfield land for new homes – we have looked at GBC’s studies. We think that they need to do their sums again.

WE NEED TO ACT NOW.

The consultation document by Guildford Borough Council is the draft Local Plan published on the Guildford local plan website. This will also link to a detailed questionnaire from early July when the formal consultation opens.

WE CAN BUILD HOMES- ON BROWNFIELD LAND

The Government wants to build new homes. Partly this is because we do need a lot of new homes. These are needed for an increased population, for young families, separated families and those who don’t have homes at present. Some are wanted by overseas investors. The Government also see new home building as an engine for Growth so they want as many homes as possible. (Perhaps they didn’t notice what happened eventually in Ireland, Cyprus and Spain when the government saw housebuilding as the main driver for growth?).

As a society, we do need new and affordable homes, but do we really need empty homes for overseas investors throughout our towns and countryside? And – however many homes we need – we don’t need to build them in the Green Belt. There are brownfield sites in London, in Guildford and in other towns which would experience urban regeneration from a building programme. There are acres of empty building plots within 1/2 mile of Canary Wharf, waiting for property prices to go up, and miles of empty plots along the Thames regeneration zone http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Gateway. It would be good to build on derelict land in those areas (although their Green Belt and open spaces are important too).

The law about planning has changed. The new law is now summarised in the National Planning Policy Framework – the “NPPF”. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6077/2116950.pdf

This supersedes most previous laws (although it doesn’t supersede the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/12-13-14/97 which includes Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). There is a requirement in the NPPF to follow UN Resolution 42/187 which states that sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We’d argue that building in the Green Belt isn’t sustainable. We think we shouldn’t use good agricultural land for buildings in an era of climate change when we need more food security here and more food grown in the temperate zones generally. We think that trees – in our woods and hedgerows – are a more efficient “carbon sink” for mopping up carbon dioxide than anything else we have found. And we think that people in cities need space to get out into the countryside easily. The Green Belts act as a “green lung” for the cities. They are a place to relax, and to exercise. Would the Olympic road cycling races have been the same around London streets, without the Surrey lanes? The cycle races around the Surrey hills are now an annual fixture because they were so popular – and because the area is so beautiful.

You may feel that we may need to have local affordable homes for local people. But in our local villages we have already taken large numbers of new homes over the past twenty years under the old planning regime- at Cricket’s Hill near Pathfields in Shere, at Wellers Court and the Shere Arts site; at the Archery site, the Tannery site and along the A25 in Gomshall. Some of these houses were built as affordable housing under the rural exceptions scheme. The area along New Road in Gomshall – which connects up along footpaths to the Pilgrim’s Way- is currently a building site where all the homes in local authority ownership are being demolished and – roughly – two new homes put in the place of each one. But despite all this building, there has been no extra infrastructure for the villages. Our broadband is very slow, and we have power cuts in high winds – we all lose power each winter in the power cuts. Our roads are potholed and narrow (we’ve been waiting for essential pothole repairs for many months); our road access to Guildford is along the dangerous and narrow A25 over Newlands Corner. We have one train an hour in either direction in the rush hour, and no trains in the middle of the day. We have no more places at the school, and the doctors’ surgery is getting busier. Water pressure is low in summer and the drains struggle in winter. There won’t be any new money for infrastructure here. We can’t take any more. Any more would not be sustainable.

There is a Master Vision plan, commissioned by Guildford Borough Council from Allies & Morrison, which suggests that there is real scope for building a sustainable residential area along Walnut Tree Close (and the other bank of the Wey) on the derelict and run down commercial sites there. This could be a beautiful residential area, between the railway station and the A3, and it offers real scope to protect the countryside (because housing can be built in the town) to provide sustainable homes, including affordable homes, on a big site, which could create a real future for Guildford, meeting our housing need without destroying our environment. At a Scrutiny Committee meeting John Rigg, Chairman of the Guildford Vision Group, and a director of Savills, stated that he thought that this would be achievable and that 4000 homes could be provided in that area within 5 years. This could include desirable smart homes facing the river, and more affordable homes and homes for rent further from the river. This, together with other brownfield sites, could meet Guildford’s needs.

This was completely rejected by councillors, who seem wedded to the idea of building on the Green Belt.

Our local government seems to wants to build on as much land as possible because they think this will bring us prosperity and “growth” – which is not defined as economic growth but just building more – they aren’t interested in building a knowledge economy with more home working, for instance. They don’t seem to care about not compromising the needs of future generations, and they don’t share our concerns about this area or other Green Belt areas. There is political pressure to build. Guildford Borough Council is accepting that pressure and seem to be welcoming it; they are certainly resisting any possibility of using brownfield land or applying the required constraints for Green Belt development. Certainly there seems to be a reluctance to consider the prospect of effective brownfield development.

The combined residents’ groups throughout Guildford – Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), Guildford Residents’ Associations (GRA), East Guildford Residents’ Associations (EGRA), CPRE, The Guildford Vision Group (GVG) and The Guildford Society (GSoc) published a combined press announcement about the housing number being too high, and constructed on the wrong basis. (see posts).

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