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Updated: ‘Block’ Support Comments for Wisley ‘New Town’ Proposal Removed By GBC

Published on: 15 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 16 Nov, 2022

By Martin Giles

13 comments in support of Taylor Wimpey’s planning proposal have been removed from the council’s planning forum website until home addresses of the student authors have been provided.

Earlier the “block” of similar comments in favour of Taylor Wimpey’s application for a so-called “new town” at the former Wisley airfield, had been queried by an Ockham Parish Councillor.

A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey said that it was: “disappointed to find that these supporters are having their views questioned”.

Cllr Imogen Jamieson had written to Guildford Borough Council’s [GBC] Marc Chapman, deputy head of Customer Care, urging him to investigate the sudden arrival of suspicious, pro-development submissions – each dated October 7, each containing similar wording, and each uploaded to GBC’s planning portal on November 7, 2022.

One of the emails referred to. Each shows a similar bullet point list or a subset of it. Cllr Jamieson said there were “49 identical” comments but we could only find 31 (as at 6pm November, 14), which were similar but not identical. They were in a document called, “Comments received 07.10.2022” attached to the application record on GBC’s planning portal.

Cllr Jamieson said in her letter: “It is not unreasonable to discount coincidence and accept that it appears to be the result of a planned and coordinated process of massed voting – involving some already identified students from the University of Surrey.

Cllr Imogen Jamieson – Photo Ockham Parish Council

“Viewed through the prism of incentives offered to Surrey University students in a previous GBC voting process, it is surely the duty of GBC to investigate whether aspects of inappropriate behaviour may be present in this highly suspect set of comments.”

Until the arrival of the suspected comments the ratio of those for and against the application (22/P/01175) was 1,125 against and just 11 in favour, and one of those, it appeared, was for the wrong application.

“This sudden block of 49 identical pro-votes seems to have turned up at a very opportune moment,” says Cllr Jamieson. “We sincerely hope that Guildford planning will make every effort to validate or reject them at the soonest.”

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked GBC for a comment and this afternoon the lead councillor for Development Management, Cllr Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “We do our best to authenticate comments made on our planning portal.

Cllr Tom Hunt

“We always ask for a name and address. Out of the 49 comments mentioned, we have noticed that 18 of them have listed their address as a university campus. So we will remove these comments from the public forum until a home address is provided.”

The decision explains the discrepancy in the number of comments found on GBC’s planning portal Yesterday evening and those found by Cllr Jamieson earlier.

Cllr Hunt continued: “It is not unusual that a template is used to comment on a planning application which can result in identical representations. This is the case for comments in objection to or in support of applications. We do not consider that this approach invalidates those comments, therefore it is appropriate they are added to the public access and counted as representations in the normal way.”

Taylor Wimpey informed of the councillor’s concern, issued the following statement on November 14: “Taylor Wimpey’s proposals for the former Wisley Airfield will create a wealth of benefits for the Guildford community, including a 45-hectare Country Park, schools, healthcare, shops & cafes, sports facilities and 1738 new homes, 40 per cent of which will be “affordable”.

Our scheme will also be the biggest single contributor in England to the B-Line project, re-establishing a crucial route for pollinators via wildflower meadows and woodlands.

“We welcome support for the proposals and are of course disappointed to find that these supporters are having their views questioned as they are no less valid than any other views.”

GBC has been asked to comment.

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test 5 Responses to Updated: ‘Block’ Support Comments for Wisley ‘New Town’ Proposal Removed By GBC

  1. Barnaby Lawrence Reply

    November 14, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    Nobody is against new housing. Nobody disbelieves the claim that we need more houses.

    What people are against is such massive developments. They would, I believe, share my opinion that a lot of smaller developments would be much preferable.

    A similar-sized development (to that proposed for Wisley) near Colchester had the same (or very similar) claims made ie cycle routes, schools, bus services, etc and so a much-reduced need for cars.

    The actual situation now, after the completion of the massive build, is that pretty much every household in the development has a car and uses it every day. It takes up to half an hour in rush hour to queue your way out. And a journey that used to take ten minutes now takes 45.

    Builders, it seems, say anything on paper before the build believing a massive development will make them shed loads more money than many smaller ones, which is probably true, but is not in the interest of the people who have to live in them nor of the locality into which it is thrust.

  2. Barry C Williams Reply

    November 15, 2022 at 9:59 am

    Are students being blamed unfairly by this councillor?

    We may not approve of such tactics, (sometimes generated via the developers’ websites) but if The Dragon is to be even-handed it should recognise that local residents associations have also employed similar tactics.

    Examples of “block” voting / identical wording can also be found on the planning applications for St. Mary’s Wharf/ Debenhams and the North Street development.

  3. Becky Clark Reply

    November 15, 2022 at 10:08 am

    Is this only a problem when it brings supporters to a scheme? What about when objectors do it?

    See the example from EFFRA on the Berkeley Homes new school and homes project in July last year.

    Did councillors demand officers validate all comments received from EFFRA’s standardised objection form when they received them in a “sudden block”?

  4. David Roberts Reply

    November 15, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    In 2016 former Tory councillors Mansbridge and Juneja drummed up student signatures to prompt an expensive but wildly unsuccessful local referendum for a directly elected Guildford mayor.

    I see from their LinkedIn profiles that many of the “block commenting” supporters of the Taylor Wimpey application are overseas students who I’m sure have no intention of becoming permanent residents in the borough. But let’s hear their side of the story: who approached them, and why did they comment?

    As usual, Guildford planning officers seem to be bending over backwards to help the developer, accepting duplicate messages of support even where the senders do not even include their surnames. Contrast that with a planning objection I recently had rejected because I missed out my postcode – or with long and inconclusive battle I’ve had to get GBC to accept photographs as valid evidence of flooding on local development sites.

    There is no getting around the fact that the quantity of public objections to Wisley is unprecedented: 1,294 to date. Most councillors on the planning committee routinely ignore public comments in their sheep-like obedience to council officers’ pro-developer recommendations.

    Cllr Bothwell has already displayed this art of the pre-emptive cringe by writing in pre-determined support for the project, and has rightly been forced to recuse herself from voting after this was exposed in The Dragon.

    Since Wisley is Guildford’s biggest housing application for generations, if not ever, local democracy demands that councillors should each spend several days studying the public comments in depth; also, that anyone reading this who has not yet commented – for or against – should do so soon by emailing planningenquiries@guildford.gov.uk, quoting planning application reference no.22/P/01175 and remembering to include their full name and address.

    Let this be a clean fight. But, for once, please let residents’ views, whatever the final balance, have decisive weight in the officers’ recommendation and the decision of the planning committee.

    Editor’s comment: This comment was received before the announcement by GBC that some comments had been removed for want of a home address.

  5. Jim Allen Reply

    November 20, 2022 at 8:59 am

    Everyone has a right to support or object to a planning application, but 49 letters near identical, in part at least, means the planning point made by all of them equals only one planning argument. If 49 objected to the lack of water supply it would still relate to a single problem – lack of water.

    Far better these alleged supporters read the paperwork before putting their fingers on their keyboards and simply apeing one person’s ill-founded support.

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