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Charity’s Plan to Sell Land for More Development in West Horsley Angers Residents

Published on: 20 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 22 Nov, 2022

West Horsley Place

By Martin Giles

A proposal to raise money to repair a Grade I listed, 14th-century manor house by selling a parcel of its land for development has angered local residents.

Bamber Gascoigne in the library at West Horsley Place.

West Horsley Place was owned by the Duchess of Roxburghe until she died in 2014. It attracted national news coverage when it was left to her great nephew, TV presenter Bamber Gascoigne, who died earlier this year having given the estate to a charitable trust in 2015.

That same year, to help fund restorations, Mr Gascoigne arranged auctions of some of his great aunt’s possessions which was reported at the time to have raised £8.8 million.

Ilona Harris

But in a letter sent to village residents on November 8, the new trust director Ilona Harris, who only took over on November 1, said that further fund-raising was necessary to address the “poor state of repair” of the Manor House which is on Historic England’s At Risk Register.

See: New Director for West Horsley Place Trust

Explaining the case for more funding Ms Harris said: “…to secure the Manor House enabling us to open to the public, stage community activities and create a public arts programme, has cost in excess of £4 million, but much more investment is needed. The Covid-19 pandemic has also severely restricted our ability to generate income over the last two years.”

The letter sent to residents by the director of the West Horsley Place Trust (click on image to enlarge)

“This has led us, with the permission of the Board of Trustees, to wish to proceed with the sale of a parcel of land on the estate. The 1.8-acre plot …was identified by Guildford Borough Council as a potential residential development site in the council’s Local Plan review of 2015.”

“Proceeds from the sale will provide vital funds for the Trust to continue our mission, namely 1) to turn the estate into a place for people to access and enjoy nature, arts, culture and heritage, and 2) to rescue and protect the Grade I listed Manor House and Grade II listed ancillary buildings.”

Ms Harris agreed to attend the following parish council meeting on November 15 to answer residents’ questions.

At the meeting, held in the village hall, there was standing room only in the public gallery which seated about 50. It was clear that the proposal was very unpopular with the residents present and they referred to developments already completed or underway.

A recently arrived resident from London asked why there was so much new development in a village he had selected for its semi-rural character.

Cllr Elaine Best

The council chair, Elaine Best, summarised the Local Plan background and its impact on the village which has had its green belt protection removed. The parish council, she said, had “fought quite daringly” to have the rural character maintained with adequate infrastructure.

“We failed,” she continued, “and individual land was sold to developers who themselves put in planning applications for whatever they wanted. This parish council made its views known on each and every one.

“We have no control on the design, we’ve made comments on the density but it has been the planning authorities [ie GBC’s] decision to approve and that is why we have a mixture of some very crowded areas, some quite pleasant ones and various parts of this village has been infilled, to the extent where … there will be at least 385 [new] houses in this village and our population will increase by at least 1,000. And our infrastructure remains the same.”

Asked about the size of the financial problem the West Horsley Place Trust faced, Ms Harris said that a deficit of roughly £400,000 was forecast, for this financial year, and that reserves currently being used to bridge the gap, needed to be rebuilt.

Map showing the West Horsley Place Estate and the parcel of land (shaded) that the trust proposes to sell for development.

One resident asked if to save the land from development a bid to buy it could be crowdfunded, would the trust sell it to the residents? Ms Harris said that they would but Cllr Best reminded the meeting that the trust was obliged, by Charity Commission rules, to act in the trust’s best interest which would probably mean accepting the highest offer.

Another resident asserted that the ideas behind the proposal went back before Covid-19 and that the trust’s claim that the funding problem was partly the result of the pandemic were “disingenuous”. “The least you can do is be honest,” she said.

Other questions were raised about the site’s drainage and its propensity to flood. Claims were also made that preparation of the site already appeared to be underway, some residents said they had spoken to tree surgeons engaged in estimating the cost of felling trees.

Ms Harris denied any knowledge of such activity and stated that no tree surgeons had been appointed by the trust.

Cllr Catherine Young

Catherine Young, a West Horsley parish councillor as well as a GGG borough councillor for Clandon & Horsley said: “Comments and concerns expressed by residents at the meeting against West Horsley Place’s intention to sell off a small parcel of land in Cranmore Lane reflected the mood of the village.

“West Horsley is reeling under the effects of the GBC Local Plan approved in 2019. There is building taking place wherever you turn, and residents rightly have had enough.

“The idea of crowdfunding put forward by residents on the night was excellent. It gives us a chance to save a piece of land and invest in our village, whilst providing much-needed funds towards the restoration of West Horsley Place.

“Let’s hope that the trustees follow this up – a good solution for all concerned.”

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test 6 Responses to Charity’s Plan to Sell Land for More Development in West Horsley Angers Residents

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 21, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Bamber Gascogne must be turning in his grave at this proposal. It is a betrayal of epic proportions. He set up the trust to protect the entire estate for the continued enjoyment of residents.

    I suggest Ms Harris resigns and hands the reins over to someone capable of managing the trust as it was intended.

    As to funding, if Bamber raised £8.8 million from the auction, and repair costs have been £4 million, one has to ask what has happened to the rest. Was it used for directors’ pay and benefits perhaps? There is also income of £100k, per annum, in rent from the opera company.

    One only has to look at local social media to see the depth of opposition to this proposal. I know a number of volunteers who are reconsidering their options over this.

  2. Graham Vickery Reply

    November 21, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    I agree with Jules Cranwell’s summary of his distaste. It poses a reasonable question of both the Trustees and the executive about the transparency of financial management and governance. That the auction proceeds , believed to be close to £9 million, have seemingly been so completely exhausted when only £4 million has been admitted to being directed at the fabric of the house, is surely a reasonable cause of concern to the local community, and beyond? One that perhaps ought to be clarified publicly.

    After all, was there not a detailed forecast at the outset of the plan for the restoration and its likely capital expenditure?

    Also, if funds raised from this potential land sale were to be simply used to cover current operating expenditures, and not set aside to restoration capital, then we must expect further such sales in the future in order to help keep the administration of the house solvent?

    Contrary assurance would be welcome.

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 22, 2022 at 9:05 am

    Apparently the trust has been bringing in expensive consultants to advise on the forward progress of restoring West Horsley Place. Mr Cranwell is right in questioning where the rest of the money has gone.

  4. S Collins Reply

    November 22, 2022 at 2:21 pm

    Shock horror, residents in (insert any town or village here) don’t want more housing near them.

    • David Roberts Reply

      November 26, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      This is an unworthy comment. Nearly 400 new houses are already going up in the Horsleys. I don’t know where S Collins lives but, proportionate to size, Guildford town would have to build 8,000 new houses (not flats) to experience the same impact on infrastructure and local life. Imagine the complaints then.

      It’s not surprising villagers feel unnecessary new development is being dumped in the countryside.

  5. J Dickinson Reply

    November 25, 2022 at 8:23 pm

    If the West Horsley Place Trust needs to raise funds, why doesn’t it sell to Surrey County Council or the parish councils a thin parcel of land, parallel to the railway path, that would be wide enough for a surfaced shared path?

    With all of the developments going on, their coffers must be rattling with highway’s contributions. The existing path is too narrow, hidden, dark and frequently overgrown.

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