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Comment: You Can Fool a Lot of the People, a Lot of the Time

Published on: 10 May, 2022
Updated on: 13 May, 2022

By Ben Paton

Ockham resident and former Conservative and GGG candidate

In the Settlement Hierarchy analysis that Guildford Borough Council commissioned for its disastrous Local Plan, Ockham was the second least sustainable settlement in the borough. It ranked at number 31 out of 32 settlements.

The current Wisley Airfield plan. Taylor Wimpey And Vivid

It was given one point for a pub – (the Hautbuoy) which has since closed – and another point for a village hall. The village hall – built by the last Lady Lovelace – has since been sold.

So the only remaining facilities are “open space” and a “place of worship” – a church dating back to before the Normans. If the same criteria were applied today Ockham would be the least sustainable settlement in the entire borough.

To circumvent the issues, the developer’s “Big Idea” was to build a “new town”, one so big that it would sustain its own facilities. The magic number of houses to make it “sustainable” was 2,100.

Guildford commissioned a Green Belt & Countryside Study. This emerged as a developer’s charter. It stated: “…the estimated residential capacity of the [land at the former Wisley airfield] at approximately 1,896 dwellings, and associated population of 4,550 will enable sufficient facilities and services to be brought forward…”

And continued: “At present, the Wisley Airfield PMDA [Potential Major Development Area] C18-A would score very poorly in sustainability terms because there are no facilities and services in place. A new settlement in excess of 4,000 people would however support a number of facilities and services as previously referred to.

“It is acknowledged that the precise facilities to be introduced, along with their location within the site, will be subject to detailed consideration as plans are drawn up. It is possible that some of those referred to will not be delivered, but other facilities not currently referred to may prove viable.

Anyone who knows the site knows that is all pie in the sky…”

“For these reasons, it is not considered helpful to provide a specific potential sustainability score for the site, but instead provide a range of scoring that would appear feasible, the centre point of which is based upon the following assumptions.

“In accordance with the IHT [Institution of Highways & Transportation] ‘desirable’ walking distances identified within Volume II, Table 5.3, the following could realistically be provided:
Primary School – 500m or less;
Nursery – 500m or less;
Healthcare facility – 500m or less;
Local Centre – 200m or less;
Community Centre – 400m or less.”

Anyone who knows the site knows that is all pie in the sky. Surrey County Council does not want to build a Primary School or a Healthcare facility on the site.

The former airfield site at Wisley, also known as Three Meadows Farm, is located within a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI). The Guildford Borough Sites of Nature Conservation Importance Surveys (2004 –2007) described this SNCI as a: “…disused airfield with derelict tarmac runway, arable fields, semi-improved grassland and hedgerows.

“This site is selected for its importance for reptiles, plants and birds. Nine notable Surrey plant species have been recorded on the site.

“In addition three RSPB red list bird species and seven RSPB amber list bird species have been recorded on the site. The site has an exceptional or good population of a number of reptiles and amphibians.”

The SNCI presented a problem for Local Plan inspector, Jonathan Bore, who wrote a memo to GBC pointing out the difficulty. But instead of publishing Mr Bore’s memo on the Local Plan inspection website, Guildford went to Surrey County Council (the council that passed a resolution to protect the green belt) and asked it to remove the SNCI designation. SCC duly obliged. Very collaborative.

It is a travesty to call this site “sustainable”. It is totally dependent on car transport. It is miles from any employment or transport hub. It is 90 per cent Grade 2 and Grade 3 arable land and countryside.

A Taylor Wimpey executive wrote: “…the densities being proposed are too high for the site. Basically, there is not enough developable land available to accommodate the housing numbers proposed. At best, I feel that the site can only accommodate 1,750 homes which makes the proposed development even less sustainable as a new settlement.”

The whole saga… stinks…”

But that was in the days when Taylor Wimpey was promoting its own site at Flexford by Normandy, a site adjacent to a railway station.

The whole saga of how agricultural land at the former Wisley airfield was taken out of the green belt stinks.

And why did Taylor Wimpey change its mind and buy the site from the promotor, Wisley Property Investments (believed to have been Russian-backed)?

The prospect of a £500 million profit seems to have carried greater weight than an objective assessment of the site. A big PR budget and an indifference, by planners, to the truth, can fool a lot of people a lot of the time, as President Putin has shown.

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test One Response to Comment: You Can Fool a Lot of the People, a Lot of the Time

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    May 10, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    It’s OK, “exceptional circumstances” will cover all problems identified.

    Like the allotments at Slyfield, which are also allowed by this phrase that can be used so perniciously and, like “mitigation”, is just weasel words taken from the planning dictionary and used by the build, build, build brigade. They are employed to override any and all rational thought patterns and common sense.

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