Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: Nick Norton – Normandy Action Group

Published on: 18 May, 2016
Updated on: 19 May, 2016

Concern over building on the green belt continues throughout much of the borough, but if the number of houses proposed are to be built they will have to go somewhere.

The Guildford Dragon decided to interview a campaigner in Normandy, Nick Norton, in the wake of a recent public meeting on the subject…

Nick Norton Normandy Action Group

Nick Norton Normandy Action Group

You are one of the original members of the Normandy Action Group (NAG). Why was it formed and how many Normandy residents do you represent?

Yes, I am the only remaining founder member of the group which was started in 2006. I was chairman 2012-2014 but now I’m just a committee member. I’ve always been interested in issues surrounding planning and with protecting all the green space around Flexford and Normandy.

There are various businesses and opportunities for housing development here so there has always been lots in which to be involved. The Guildford Local Plan process has meant I’ve had to build up a raft of background knowledge to help Normandy Action Group (NAG) advise residents as to how they might respond to the consultations and anything arising from them.

Currently NAG is supported by about 100 households of those residents who are very concerned over the future of the community and how planning affects it; the new revised Guildford Local Plan proposals for 1,100 homes and a very large secondary school has generated major concern among residents.

Why does Normandy need an ‘action group’ as well as a parish council?

As a parish, Normandy is the combination of its constituent historical hamlets which in modern times include Christmas Pie, Flexford, Willey Green, Wyke, Pinewoods and Normandy proper.  There is a helpful entry in Wikipedia thanks to the local historians group. Because it is made up of different hamlets it is a disparate place with no traditional village centre and each part of the community tends to have its own focus.

Normandy Action Group arose to address planning issues that either ‘fell between the cracks’ or had the potential to have a wider impact across the various parts of the community, so we aim to keep our members informed and encourage their active participation.

While the parish council is a statutory consultee, it can only write one letter in response to a planning application and so the active participation of the individual residents can have more impact.

Green belt land in Normandy. Some residents are concerned about potential development.

Green belt land in Normandy. Some residents are concerned about potential development.

What are the main issues that require action at the moment?

It is the new revised Local Plan proposals for 1,100 homes and a very large secondary school that has generated major concern among residents. As a result, there are other planning applications for housing development popping up outside the local plan causing more anxiety.

The parish is bounded to the north by the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area based on the Ash and Pirbright ranges SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interst] that supports rare bird populations and to the south by the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Area of Great Landscape Value from the top of the Hog’s Back down almost to Flexford.

The new housing proposal in the draft local plan, on 73 hectares of agricultural land and ancient woodland that protects our local biodiversity, has the potential for between 2,500-3,000 people, 1,000-2,000 vehicles and 700 or so dogs and cats that would have the potential to cause enormous disturbance to the ground-nesting birds on the SSSI.

Between them, Flexford and Normandy settlements have approximately 900 households and this proposed development would overwhelm them. Once fully built, the Surrey County Council traffic scenarios accepted by the borough council show all local roads would grind to a halt.

Add to that a proportion of 1,500 secondary school pupils being dropped off and picked up every day and you can appreciate how non-sensical all this seems to current residents.

The A323 through Normandy is already down to a crawl at peak times and any disruption on the A3 or A31 sees traffic flooding down through Wanborough and onto the A323 causing gridlock in our two C and D class local roads. It’ll be 15 years of dust, HGVs and complete disruption. We are being told this is “sustainable development” and its “good for us” but residents simply don’t believe it.

You recently held a meeting on proposals contained in the revised Local Plan. Tell me something about that?

Because of the continuing public concern NAG called a public meeting. We wanted to outline the proposals, explain why they have arisen and provide initial advice and guidance to residents about the consultation process and what they might do to make their opinions known. The NAG committee anticipated a large turnout but not as large as the 230 or so residents that attended. It was standing room only at the back.

We invited our borough councillor David Bilbe [Con, Normandy], our county councillor Keith Witham [Con, Worplesdon] and our constituency MP Jonathan Lord [Con, Woking], who was unfortunately unable to attend due to Parliamentary business.

A NAG committee member opened the meeting with the NAG interpretation of the impact of the proposals. Our councillors then addressed the meeting to tell residents what they knew of the proposals and what information they could provide to residents to help them respond.

Cllr Witham had already sourced a number of documents from Surrey County Council’s education department, revealing some of the decision making behind their endorsement of the selection of green belt land between Flexford and Normandy as the so called “best” place for a 1,500 pupil secondary school.

What were the positions taken by Cllrs Witham and Bilbé?

The NAG chairman invited members of the audience to make points. Importantly, Glaziers Lane resident Mike Aaronson challenged the two councillors to unequivocally undertake to oppose the proposals and both Cllr Bilbé and Cllr Witham agreed they would.

Further points were made and questions asked by residents and NAG committee members and our councillors did their best to outline the issues. By the end of the meeting, residents were fully engaged, and NAG and our two councillors undertook to do their best to keep a flow of advice and guidance to support all forms of response up to the end of the formal consultation period on 17 July.

Do you think that the council and or the planning inspector will take any notice of your group’s views?

There were 20,0000 responses from 7,000 individuals to the previous draft Guildford Local Plan consultation, of which Normandy Action Group’s was one. I believe it is widely accepted that they were mainly resistant to large-scale residential development in the green belt. The impending consultation for the draft Guildford Local Plan will be carried out under Regulation 19 of the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

In order to have an opportunity to request to appear in front of the Planning Inspector considering the Local Plan at an Examination in Public [EiP], a resident or resident’s group such as NAG will have to have submitted a response. The Planning Inspector is obliged to examine the evidence base including all responses from all parties under Regulation 18 and Regulation 19.

NAG has learned from those who have attended such an event, that developers and housebuilders try to pack them with their legal and technical representatives, to dominate any discussions with the Planning Inspector in the time available. NAG will submit its response but it’s the responses of all our residents that count, as they can show that the community understands the issues and has put forward sensible and cogent arguments on the “soundness” of the proposals that are likely to affect their community to which the Planning Inspector will pay attention.

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