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Church Minister Calls Plans To Develop Former Wisley Airfield ‘Bonkers!’

Published on: 14 Apr, 2017
Updated on: 18 Apr, 2017

Plan for the phased development of the former Wisley Airfield site as shown on the Wisley Property Investment Ltd website (click to enlarge)

A church minister, the Revd Hugh Grear, rector at All Saints’ Church, Ockham, has called plans for a housing development on the former Wisley airfield, “bonkers!”.

He was speaking at a meeting of the Wisley Action Group (WAG) on Wednesday (April 13) who object to plans to develop the former airfield, also known as Three Farms Meadows.

A major theme of the meeting was fundraising. The group have hired a prominent planning barrister, Richard Harwood QC, to represent them at a planning appeal hearing in September, forecast to last 20 days, and needs to raise £125,000 to cover expected legal costs.

Developers Wisley Property Investments Limited (WPIL) have appealed against the unanimous rejection of their planning application for 2,000 homes on the site, by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) last April (2016).

Unusually, WAG will, at the appeal hearing, find themselves in the same corner as GBC who will also be defending their decision to reject the application.

The meeting was told that the presiding planning inspector will report the hearing to the Secretary of State for communities and local government, Sajid Javid, who will take the final decision himself, one that is felt likely to be regarded as a landmark decision, used as a precedent in further green belt planning proposals.

Revd Hugh Grear

Opening the meeting, Rev Grear, formerly of Worplesdon, said: “I feel passionately that this is the wrong development in the wrong place.”

Addressing the audience of about 90 local residents he continued: “I also want you to start thinking how this will affect you. I want to ask you if you have been on a crowded train recently? Have you tried to drive to Effingham Junction station? Or to park there? Or at Horsley station? It is equally jam-packed.”

“With another 5,000 people it will go from the ridiculous to the downright impossible.”

“All my life I have really not been interested in objections to every single planning application… I have not been in favour of Nimbies and I know that Nimbyism is a great Surrey past-time.”

“But I have realised you can’t sit on the fence. This development – it’s bonkers, it’s stupid!”

“It’s not Nimbyism to say this should be killed stone dead. It’s common sense. It’s preserving the heritage that’s been here for a thousand years.”

Warning that the development would affect house prices, Revd Grear encouraged the audience to donate money to WAG and to attend the planning appeal hearing in September, saying: “The press will be watching. The council will be watching.”

“I want this appeal to be dealt with so comprehensively that the inspector’s report to the secretary of state says, ‘Look we’ve got to make make sure that this doesn’t happen again with another planning application.’

“So we want to make sure that the appeal decision, at the end of the day, is so comprehensive that no one would bother to put in a planning application for Three Farm Meadows again.”

A comprehensive presentation, given by WAG supporter Glen Travers, included a claim that an WAG commissioned environmental study, headed by Professor Duncan Laxen, managing director of Air Quality Consultants, had concluded that the existing “environmental statement” in relation to human health and eco systems” had, “been reached on the basis of inappropriate data and incomplete assessment”.

Conservative SCC candidate Julie Iles

In attendance at the meeting was Bill Barker the retiring Conservative county councillor for The Horsleys, two of the candidates vying to replace him at the forthcoming election Julie Iles (Con) and Paul Kennedy (Lib Dem) as well as the borough councillor Colin Cross (Lib Dem, Lovelace).

Julie Iles said that despite the Local Plan proposals emanating from GBC she was keen to protect the green belt. She said: “…GBC do not seem to recognise that housing demand is not an ‘exceptional circumstance’ that should allow building on green belt.”

Sir Paul Beresford MP

Later the meeting was joined by Sir Paul Beresford, MP for Mole Valley. He said: “I have as many difficulties with the council plan as you.

“I cannot see why they can’t plan for more buildings to go up in Guildford [town centre]. There are some dramatic buildings going up in central London, high density, very good looking, attractive and going for enormous sums…

“We could do that without touching the green belt.”

“The point they have got to remember is that the green belt can only be taken away in special circumstance. Those special circumstances do not include [demand for] housing.”

Questioned about any differences of approach between him and Guildford MP Anne Milton, he said: “There is a very strict arrangement that you work in your own patch. I wobble across the border into this area – Anne doesn’t like it but, to date, she hasn’t said anything. I don’t know her position on this at all.

“I think she is being careful. A lot of MPs say anything to do with local planning is nothing to do with us.

“I think the Local Plan and the green belt are above that.”

Lib Dem SCC candidate Paul Kennedy and Cllr Colin Cross (Lib Dem, Lovelace)

After the meeting Paul Kennedy the Lib Dem candidate in the SCC election said: “Conservatives locally say they oppose the Wisley new town and will defend the green belt. But the reality is that it is a Conservative council which is undermining its own case on the developers’ appeal by leaving the proposal in the latest version of their Local Plan…

“The choice for residents in the forthcoming county elections will be to back the Conservatives who are selling us down the Swanee, or the Liberal Democrats who will take them on both locally and nationally to defend the green belt.”

A list of all candidates standing in the forthcoming county council election for the Horsleys division follows.

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Responses to Church Minister Calls Plans To Develop Former Wisley Airfield ‘Bonkers!’

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    April 14, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    If Sir Paul Beresford is such a fan of tower blocks, perhaps he might like to support the building of such in the towns of his constituency, Dorking perhaps?

    Get thee back to your own patch good knight. We like Guildford low level thank you.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    April 18, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Sir Paul never mentioned tower blocks. He’s talking about higher-density housing.

    In Guildford a lot of brownfield space is wasted. For such a prosperous town, most of it is a decaying mess. I’m sorry if Dave Middleton can’t see this.

    Preventing urban sprawl into the green belt has been a major factor in regenerating London, where attractive developments have dramatically reversed the depopulation of the mid-20th century. Many are just 3-6 stories high, with all the necessary infrastructure and amenities, well suited to the young and disadvantaged who can’t afford big properties or cars and want to live in human-scale communities.

    In the same way, protecting the Surrey green belt will incentivise developers to revive Guildford instead of land-banking green fields in the hope of making an unearned killing out of planning permission. Properly designed with green spaces and underground parking, central Guildford could easily accommodate several thousand new dwellings – without garden-grabbing on the outskirts.

    Why on earth don’t Guildford Borough Council commit to this, instead of perpetuating planning paralysis by refusing to rule out green belt development?

    • Dave Middleton Reply

      April 22, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      When Sir Paul referred to “building up” and “dramatic buildings” in London, I rather doubt that that he was referring to 3-6 story blocks of “affordable” flats. Nowhere in his reported comments above does he refer to “higher-density housing” as you put it.

      I suspect he was referring to mega-multi-story buildings such as the Shard, the “Cheese Grater”, the “Walkie Talkie”, the “Gherkin” and other such high rise buildings, which are fine and dandy in a bustling metropolitan city like London, but not really suited to a small county town like Guildford.

      Incidentally, I rather like Guildford, my home for the past 27 years, much as it is and I see no evidence of it being a “decaying mess”, aside for the town eyesore that is the Casino nightclub.

      I agree wholeheartedly that the town needs more housing for young singles and families and some of it can and should be accommodated on town centre brownfield sites, but it must be remembered that young families also need some individual outdoor garden space for the children to play in and the town centre cannot provide very much of this.

      Building new family homes in the suburbs of Guildford will be necessary to provide that family accommodation. Of course, there is also the fact that if the university were to honour its promise to accommodate the bulk of its students on campus, many of the family homes currently rented out as student digs might well come back into the general housing marked, be it as rental or for sale.

  3. C Pierce Reply

    April 18, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    The use of Wisley airfield for this housing development proposal makes far more sense than Dunsfold airfield. Wisley has immediate connection to the A3 and other A and B roads. Whereas Dunsfold airfield is only accessible via country lanes.

  4. Jim Allen Reply

    April 18, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    Neither make sense if you look at the infrastructure deficits and the ability to provide water to either site.

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