In addition to the other plans, Guildford proposes to dump a new town of 2100 houses on the sleepy hamlet of Ockham. This area is just south of the M25 and near Cobham, Ripley, West Horsley, and East Horsley. The area planned for building is currently all Greenbelt, and is within metres of the Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area (an international designation), and is overlooked by the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Ockham has no rail link, and only very minor road links to the other small villages in the area. The developers want to put more than 2000 houses there, despite expert advice from the QC for the Wisley Airfield Action Group making it clear that this is unsustainable.
The Wisley “Airfield” is actually not – despite the name – a working airfield. There was a WW2 grass airstrip but this was only requisitioned on the basis of a promise that the land would be returned to agricultural use after the war. A temporary concrete airstrip was laid down in the 1950s, but has not been used in years – the airstrip area is a small fraction of the site. Physical structures associated with the airfield were removed long ago and the land is mostly used for farming. The land adjacent to the Thames Basin Heath special protection area and includes a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. The rare Dartford Warbler breeds there – other species include skylarks, red kites, stock doves, adders, badgers and dormice. The farmland is prime agricultural land, used both as pasture and for growing crops. The developers have called this brownfield, but this is still agricultural land which has been farmed for 1000 years.
For more details and the map of what is proposed see the Get Surrey (Surrey Advertiser) article on the subject on this link:
For more information on the site, and photographs, see this link: http://wisleyactiongroup.co.uk
Add this to the proposals for hundreds more homes in Effingham (there is a current application for 295 homes plus other land earmarked) , Send, Ripley, West Horsley and East Horsley, and there will be a large new town clogging the countryside between Leatherhead and Guildford – more than 6000 homes east of Guildford – with several thousands the other side of the town, in the extension proposed around the Hog’s Back (3000 homes), Wood Street, Worplesdon (up to 1500 homes) and Normandy, down to Ash and Tongham. Guildford Borough Council has published its current SHMA which proposes up to 820 homes per year for the next 16 years, or more than 13000 homes – of which it seems around 70% will be put on the Greenbelt. That Greenbelt is not for Guildford Borough Council to destroy – it was set up legally as the Metropolitan Greenbelt, intended to protect London from excessive urban sprawl and to provide fresh air for the big city. Dickens wrote, more than 100 years ago, about the only fresh air in London coming from The Surrey Hills. But this will go – the conurbation will stretch from Leatherhead to Aldershot, and the erosion of the greenbelt through Surrey will be enormous. Once it is developed, it will be gone for ever.
Letters and detailed submissions to MPs and councillors, formal responses to the planning process, and repeated protests about the erosion of our countryside, have not changed political policy at either a local or a national level. Our local politicians, both local councillors and our MPs, have expressed pious concern and done nothing except defer planning until after the next election. This has led to the formation of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, a local campaigning group which is seeking to use the democratic process to campaign for better planning and better environmental protection of our countryside. We had originally hoped that we could encourage councillors and MPs to represent our views – it now looks as though we will have to seek to represent these views ourselves since we are still being disregarded.
The “need” for more executive homes in the Surrey countryside is based only on the assumption that demand and need are the same thing. Homes are indeed needed in our country. But there are already around 1 million empty homes, and enough brownfield land, (using DCLG statistics), for at least a million more. These statistics don’t include the huge numbers of homes – first in London, but now a nationwide phenomenon – owned by non-resident overseas investors which will never be lived in by anyone (owned by “the Shanghai Dentist”) – around 70% of new build homes in London are acquired by non-resident overseas buyers. Resolve that problem first before we build on any green fields, please! No one needs a home which will sell at £2 million – this is a luxury. However, the developers may demand the right to build this, supported by government and the planning inspectorate, and of course this support is endorsed by the huge range of businesses with an interest in development, few of whom are impartial, and very few of which have an ongoing stake in an area. Local people do not even have the right of appeal against planning decisions. “Localism” as enshrined in the NPPF is a fig leaf, since local views can be overturned by the planning inspectorate. It has been demonstrated that we cannot trust any of our existing elected representatives, who have not acted to protect our countryside or the environment. Unless they act now, while they have some power, to protect our countryside and to ensure that this protection will last after May 2015, I think we can assume that we cannot trust their promises for the future.
In Guildford Greenbelt Group we say that we do need affordable homes within the borough; that these should be assessed fairly, and without aggressive input from the developer lobby; and then these affordable homes should be built on the extensive brownfield land currently available in our borough and elsewhere. Our area is 89% Greenbelt and approx 44% AONB, on the North Downs, and it is an area of historic importance (see other pages on this website). It is not suitable land for London’s overspill, driven by developer profit-seeking. It is in the interest of all – including the huge population of London – to preserve the Greenbelt and other countryside around London, because this gives us
- clean air (which is one of the reasons for the original establishment of Greenbelt – and this is even more useful today)
- flood protection (if you concrete over our hills, the land cannot act as a sponge, and there could be consequential floods in – for example – West London and the suburbs surrounding London)
- excellent agricultural land providing local food -this is in a time of climate change where all agricultural land in the temperate zones is at a premium
woods which help to provide a carbon sink which mop up carbon
- space for recreation and relaxation
- important homes for wildlife
- incentives to renovate run-down brownfield land, which is in the interests of all, most of all those who live close to those brownfield sites
This planning application for Wisley Airfield has been submitted to Guildford Borough Council under the reference 15/P/00012.
You can write about this to Planning, Guildford Borough Council, Millmead House, Millmead, Guildford GU2 4BB, quoting 15/P/00012.