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Dragon Interview: Karen Stevens – Save the Hog’s Back Campaign

Published on: 20 Oct, 2013
Updated on: 20 Oct, 2013
Karen Stevens standing in her garden, in the background one of the threatened fields.

Karen Stevens standing in her garden, in the background one of the threatened fields.

Karen Stevens, a former journalist, was shocked to find that the green belt fields surrounding her home might become the site for a major housing development, over time, comprising nearly 2000 houses. So, fully utilising internet communications, she decided to start a campaign…

Why did you start this campaign?

To save an exceptionally beautiful corner of Guildford from being lost forever. This area seemed particularly vulnerable because Blackwell Farm isn’t widely known about and has only a handful of local residents to defend it.

I wanted to make people aware of what they’d be losing if the university’s proposals to develop a 2,000-home ‘urban village’ on the site went ahead. The loss is not just a nationally designated ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’, but an important part of the town’s landscape,  the spectacular views that can be seen from the Hog’s Back.

Are you happy with the support you have received so far?

Yes, we’ve had fantastic support from across Guildford, from Normandy to Shalford, and nearly 1,000 people have now signed our online e-petition, which is remarkable for such a sparsely populated area. I think it’s indicative of the affection people feel for the Hog’s Back, for its history and for its sheer beauty.

We’d probably have gained even greater support if the Local Plan consultation had been conducted differently. Instead of encouraging people to make objective judgements about which sites are most suitable for development, it seems to have pitched area against area, so that everyone is fighting to save only their own corner.

What do you say to those who live in the borough, need homes and feel the loss of these fields is a price worth paying?

Council figures indicate that just 204 houses per year are needed in Guildford to accommodate the needs of people of the borough and there are sufficient brownfield sites to meet this need before any green belt is lost to new homes. The development planned for Blackwell Farm won’t solve Guildford’s housing shortage.

Homes earmarked for the site are not ‘affordable’, they are ‘executive houses’ and, if they were built, would likely be occupied by professionals migrating into Guildford from London and elsewhere. I’m sure that Wimbledon will seek to safeguard its common and Richmond its park so why should the people of Guildford build over their green spaces to accommodate people moving from these areas?

What would you do if you were a councillor faced with this issue?

I’d ask residents whether they wanted Guildford to become a sprawling city and were prepared to sacrifice their green spaces and suffer more traffic congestion to achieve this.

If residents opposed this idea, and most people I’ve spoken to do, I’d go back to the Government with that message.

However, if I found that people favoured this kind of growth or that Government insisted upon it, I’d look seriously at Guildford’s urban centre and brownfield sites as I believe these could be more densely built upon. There are many areas that would be improved by better use of space. There are vast surface car parks which could be moved underground and there are underutilised industrial and retail units which could be located to vacant spaces out of town.

This would allow Guildford to regenerate and improve town centre locations such as Walnut Tree Close to create attractive, centrally-located, waterside accommodation. This would also be attractive to young professionals who want to live in a vibrant town-centre environment and would place people closer to their place of work.

Has it changed your view on the importance of local politics?

Yes, it’s made me realise what impact the decisions made by the local council can have, good and bad, and the responsibility that councillors have in shaping towns and ensuring that the legacy they leave is a positive one.

I have been told that there were once proposals to build on the fields that can be seen from the High Street. That seems unbelievable. Luckily the idea was successfully opposed, but it would have been a sad loss for the town if it had gone ahead.

I think that some of the proposals being made today would result in a similar loss. I’m also of the belief that people of Guildford can make a difference and I’m encouraged that so many people have stood up to protect areas that are important to them. It’s easy to dismiss people airing their views as being Nimbys, but less than one per cent of those signing the ‘Save Hogs Back’ petition live in the area affected.

Do you think that the issue, i.e. countryside protection versus need for more homes, has a high enough profile nationally?

No, and I’m sure that people would be shocked if they knew the extent to which the green belt is being eroded. Building on green belt has increased by 84% in just a year. How much of our landscape heritage might be lost as a result?

The Hog’s Back is one of many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty across the UK that is under threat. Others include the Wiltshire Downs and north Cornish coast. The drive for growth and new planning laws are leaving our woodlands, downlands, fenlands and moorlands unprotected and, once gone, these cannot be replaced.

Meanwhile, developers sit on land that already has planning permission and persuade councils to release more and more of the green belt for housing.

Karen works on the Save the Hogsback website

Karen works on the Save the Hogsback website

What would you say to those who wish to support you?

I would urge them to make sure that their views are heard, in the first instance by writing to their local councillor and our MP, Anne Milton. Details of councillors, and advice for those wishing to write letters are available on the Save Hogs Back website (www.savehogsback.co.uk).

There is also a link to a Government e-petition on the site, which supporters can sign. Finally, supporters need to make their family, friends and neighbours aware of the campaign by all means available, including Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in etc. If anyone has time to become further involved, then we would welcome their help too.

See also: Save the Hog’s Back Campaign Calls For Legal Help

What do you think? It is not too late to vote on the Dragon Poll.

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test 2 Responses to Dragon Interview: Karen Stevens – Save the Hog’s Back Campaign

  1. Martin Dowland Reply

    August 31, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    Beechcroft Drive access onto the A3 has been an issue since 1961 but is nothing to do with the preserving of the Area of Great Landscape Value which shields the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all valuable and popular Green Belt which is still threatened by flaws in the draft Local Plan.

    Yet, a leaflet came through my door this week, hinting that if we accept the building on the green space which protects the Surrey Hills (in this case, Blackmore and Manor Farms) my road, Beechcroft Drive will get an easier access route.

    This is myth.

    We are entertaining the planning of convenient routes outside the green belt. No one in my anecdotal experience favours otherwise.

    To be tempted to accept the metropolitan vision of a few in power in exchange for a better access road (when there are viable alternatives) is not on the cards; the residents threw it [the offer] out months ago.

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 1, 2014 at 10:54 am

    There is of course an easier access for the twenty or so residents of Beech Croft Drive but this obvious solution has been conveniently discarded.

    The solution would be for the residents to use the route through to the under used park and ride site and on to the multi-million pound road improvement scheme which leads on to the University Research Park and the Hospital.

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