Fringe Box



Councillor Critical of University’s Blackwell Farm Plans

Published on: 14 Mar, 2019
Updated on: 15 Mar, 2019

A borough councillor, in a letter to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, claims that the University of Surrey is going back on an undertaking given that Blackwell Farm would remain part of the green belt.

Cllr Bob McShee

Cllr Bob McShee (Ind, Worplesdon) attended the university’s exhibition of its proposals for the strategic 1,800 housing development to be known as Blackwell Park.

He writes: As 1,800 homes are planned to be built, this will equate to at least 3,000 cars, and if these vehicles exit Blackwell Park via the Research Park then the roads around the Hospital, Tesco and the A3 will come to a standstill.

“The other exit onto the A31 will also be congested, as until Highways England carry out improvements to the A3 then traffic will be gridlocked.”

Cllr McShee points out that in a GBC Topic Paper, dated 2000, on the University of Surrey,  it was said: “Blackwell Farm, to the west of Manor Farm, is not included as part of the University expansion plans.  This land will remain in the green belt where there is a presumption against inappropriate development.

“Taking Manor Farm out of the green belt would not compromise the status of the green belt boundary following the edge of Blackwell Farm. The university is proposing to open up parts of Blackwell Farm for community use, especially for the purposes of recreation and for providing access to a natural environment for enjoyment and education.

“These are uses which are appropriate in the green belt.  The university’s proposals are not therefore considered a threat to Blackwell Farm”.

The Worplesdon councillor concludes: “Now, 19 years on, the university’s proposals are a significant threat to the green belt at Blackwell Farm.”

Greg Melly, University of Surrey

Greg Melly, senior vice-president of the University of Surrey, said: “What the council said back in 2000 was correct. Blackwell Farm was not part of the university’s expansion plans at that stage.

“What has changed since then is a growing recognition amongst the public as well as national and local government that there is a significant need for new homes across the country, and particularly in the South East. Guildford is very much included in this, and it forms a key part of the council’s Local Plan.

“As a large local employer and an active member of the Guildford community, the University of Surrey is keenly aware of the need for these homes and hears many complaints from staff and others of their difficulties in finding accommodation in this area.

“As the owner of this land, we have an opportunity to play our part in solving this housing and infrastructure problem – which cannot be solved by simply trying to shoehorn properties ad hoc into limited sites around Guildford.

“The university has engaged through the Local Plan process and have now embarked on a further consultation process with local residents and other interested parties to discuss and develop the vision behind this new community – which will incorporate not just housing, but a new school and the other amenities that will make Blackwell Park a well-connected and sustainable place to live.”

The Conservative 2015 election newsletter in which the Shalford candidates vowed to protect the greenbelt.

In a 2015 Conservative election campaign newsletter headlined “Conservatives Vow to Protect Our Greenbelt it was stated: “The fight goes on… against Blackwell farm with Conservative candidates Michael Illman and Mike Parsons opposing any attempt by the University of Surrey to expand into the countryside.”

Recently, in an interview with The Guildford Dragon, the leader of the GBC Conservative group and council leader, Paul Spooner, conceded that they would not be making such promises during the forthcoming election campaign.

Cllr Mike Parsons

Today (March 14, 2019) Cllr Michael Parsons (Con, Shalford) said: “I support the protection of the green belt. I did then [2015] and do now.

“This has been demonstrated when I actively lobbied to have the proposed 700 homes in Chinthurst Lane refused, I was instrumental in having the land behind Shalford village taken out of the emerging Local Plan and having it designated as Community Open Space, I have lobbied successfully to have Hornhatch Farm taken out of the emerging and submitted local plan, and I am currently supporting the objections to the Chinthurst Farm proposed development.

“I studied the submitted local plan in depth asked the questions and in conclusion came to the considered judgement that there was a need to have a balanced view. There is the need to meet the housing need [bearing in mind] the lack of sufficient brownfield sites to meet this need.

“I make no judgement on the current proposal, I wait to see the submitted planning application before coming to a conclusion I prefer to deal in fact, not hypothesis. At this time the universally agreed fact is that as a country and a county there is a substantial housing need to be met.”

Outline sketch plan of the proposed “Blackwell Park”. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Susan Parker, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group said: “Blackwell Farm is on the edge of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, overlooked by it, and should be a protected landscape. It is a beautiful area, overlooking the Cathedral with an iconic view of Guildford. The proposals don’t meet the required needs for infrastructure, and in fact show the same muddled thinking that we have seen from Guildford Borough Council and the developers over the last few years

Cllr Susan Parker

“If this land, on the edge of the Hog’s Back, is suitable for commercial exploitation, it is hard to see that any land can be protected. We have argued with the planning inspector that a lower housing number with lower need (due to a lower expected population) means that none of the greenfield sites are actually needed.

“We could remove this site from our local plan and in fact protect all our green fields in Guildford. We should be building the homes we need on brownfield sites in the urban area instead. Why are we still protecting car parks and making sure urban land stays derelict while building on our beauty spots?”

Karen Stevens of the Save Hogs Back campaign added: “Bob McShee is absolutely right in highlighting the previous commitments by the University of Surrey to protect Blackwell Farm as open farmland and to allow the people of Guildford to enjoy the natural beauty of this landscape.

Karen Stevens at Blackwell Farm

“The commitment to protect Blackwell Farm was one of many made by the university in order to persuade the council to push back the green belt and to build on Manor Farm. So many of these commitments have been broken. Where is the safe access for Beechcroft Drive? Where is the way-marked nature trail through the ancient woodland? Where is the visitor centre at Manor Farm?

“None of these has materialised, and instead what we do see is a huge swathe of farmland changed out of all recognition,  a massive Vet School building slap bang in the setting to the AONB, another building in what was supposed to be a protective buffer zone to the ancient woodland, and a third building adjacent to a scheduled ancient monument.

“The university now is making even bigger promises in order to develop Blackwell Farm, but already these appear to be being watered down – the secondary school may now not materialise, there will be no medical facilities on site, and most importantly, significant parts of the road infrastructure will not all be in place until most of the site has been built out, leaving the west of Guildford in traffic chaos for years.

“The recent public exhibition hosted by the university was all about suggesting that Guildford would benefit from the Blackwell Farm development, but few who attended were taken in. The only ones to benefit will be the greedy university and the developers working alongside them. Where will they look to exploit next?”

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