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Guildford ‘Strategic Sites’ Riddle After Whitehall Abandons Plans to Widen A3

Published on: 21 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 21 Jun, 2020

The stretch of the A3 that is no longer part of the government’s road investment plan.

A government review on road-building has raised questions about the development of two “strategic sites” in Guildford’s Local Plan, say campaigners.

The review “Road Investment Strategy 2 – April 2020 – March 2025”, indicates that plans to widen the A3 through Guildford, where it is reduced to two lanes each way, will not be getting any new investment in the foreseeable future.

During the hotly contested debate on the Local Plan before its controversial adoption just two weeks before the borough council election in May last year (2019), Paul Spooner, then the Conservative council leader, went on record to assure residents that housing development would not proceed without the necessary local infrastructure.

He told The Guildford Dragon NEWS: “Guildford will not have all these new houses, even though they are needed, without having the infrastructure.”

Karen Stevens

Karen Stevens, Organiser of the Save Hog’s Back campaign and chairman of the Local Plan Sub-committee at Compton Parish Council, has written to GBC councillors to remind them: “Guildford’s Local Plan was based largely on the premise that the widening scheme would go ahead and it is imperative that Guildford Borough Council now reviews and modifies its plans as promised.”

Highways England (HE), she said, voiced concerns over the scale of development proposed in the Local Plan and in a response to the “Proposed Submission Local Plan”, raised objections to the strategic sites for thousands of new homes at Blackwell Farm and Gosden Hill.

She points out: “The [Plan’s] Statement of Common Ground was clear that if the widening did not come forward or was significantly delayed, the Local Plan may need to be reviewed. It states, ‘The delivery of planned development in the later stages of the plan period is dependent on delivery of an improvement to the A3 through Guildford.

“‘It is understood that if it is not possible for Highways England to demonstrate a positive business case for an improvement to the A3 through Guildford, it may be necessary for Guildford Borough Council to consider a review of the Local Plan including its site allocations and infrastructure schedule.'”

Ms Stevens sent copies of her letter to all councillors but received a response from only one, Bob McShee (R4GV, Worplesdon). But today (June 18) GBC Council leader Caroline Reeves said: “The Government are no longer advancing the development of the scheme, which is very disappointing. This scheme was included in the government’s previous Road Investment Strategy and subject to debate at the Examination and addressed in the Inspector’s report.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

“While the Plan was prepared on the assumption that the scheme would be delivered, the Plan anticipates the possibilities of delay, reduction in scope or the cancellation of the scheme.

“The council has addressed this eventuality explicitly in Local Plan Policy ID2 (2). This involves collaborative working with Surrey County Council and Highways England, reviewing its transport evidence base to consider impacts of approved development and Local Plan growth on the safe operation and the performance of the Local Road Networks and Strategic Road Network.

“This review will determine whether the proposed transport measures or additional transport measures can mitigate the cumulative impacts of development traffic on the A3.”

Letter from Karen Stevens to all GBC councillors in full:

Dear Councillor,

Impact of Government’s Road Investment Strategy and the need to review Guildford’s Local Plan

Following publication in March of the Road Investment Strategy 2 – April 2020 – March 2025, it appears that the A3 widening through Guildford will not be getting any new investment in the foreseeable future. The Local Plan was based largely on the premise that the widening scheme would go ahead and it is imperative that Guildford Borough Council now reviews and modifies its plans as promised.

As you are aware, Highways England (HE) must ensure that transport movements on the strategic network are not detrimentally affected by the Local Plan, and it voiced concerns over the scale of development proposed in the draft Local Plan. As an example, in HE’s 2016 response to the Proposed Submission Local Plan, it raised objections to the strategic sites at Blackwell Farm and Gosden Hill.

Following HE’s initial objections, the Council worked with HE to produce a Statement of Common Ground so that the strategic sites could be put forward, but this was subject to the A3 widening taking place. The Statement of Common Ground was clear that if the widening did not come forward or was significantly delayed, the Local Plan may need to be reviewed. It states:

“The delivery of planned development in the later stages of the plan period is dependent on delivery of an improvement to the A3 through Guildford. It is understood that if it is not possible for Highways England to demonstrate a positive business case for an improvement to the A3 through Guildford, it may be necessary for Guildford Borough Council to consider a review of the Local Plan including its site allocations and infrastructure schedule.”

As the Government’s Road Investment Strategy clearly does not include the A3 widening, this should now trigger a review of the Local Plan. This review should not come as a surprise to developers as these issues were all raised at the Examination in Public in July 2018. They were also cited in the High Court as the reason why GBC required a 40% buffer to its objectively assessed housing need figure. The Council is, therefore, fully entitled to carry out this review without fear of reprisals.

The review should introduce policies into the Local Plan that ensure:

  1. Sites with a significant impact on the strategic road network are not brought forward for planning permission until infrastructure is in place to support them.
  2. Sites are not commenced if there is the possibility that the entire site cannot be built. This will ensure that land is used efficiently and, in the case of Blackwell Farm, that land which forms the setting to the Surrey Hills AONB is not permanently scarred in order to provide the 150 homes which might potentially be built in the early stages of the Plan. The ‘exceptional circumstances’ that were put forward by GBC to justify taking the strategic sites out of the green belt would not apply if these sites only comprised a fraction of their intended allocation.

Ideally, we would ask that the Council removes Blackwell Farm from the Local Plan. The Council has repeatedly stated that it does not wish to build unnecessarily on open farmland in the green belt and it now has the opportunity to review the Local Plan and to remove at least two green-belt strategic sites on legitimate transport grounds, whilst still meeting the borough’s objectively assessed housing need. 

Removing two strategic sites would clearly be more cost-efficient, more ‘land’ efficient and cause less harm to the environment than simply reducing the volume of housing across a number of smaller sites.

Best regards,

Karen Stevens

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test 9 Responses to Guildford ‘Strategic Sites’ Riddle After Whitehall Abandons Plans to Widen A3

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    Cancellation of the scheme may be “disappointing” for Cllr Reeves, but it’s a jolly good breath of fresh air to most residents.

    It is also likely that the A3 sliproad works at Wisley will now no longer go ahead, so the Wisley development should also be abandoned.

    When will the GBC leadership wake up, smell the coffee, and realise that the Local Plan is totally unworkable, the housing number grossly and artificially over-inflated?

    It has always been about obscene developer profits, and of no benefit to the majority of residents.

  2. Hazel Barker Reply

    June 22, 2020 at 11:59 am

    That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time and a very sensible one too, not to build on Blackwell/Gosden Farms, leaving the green belt land for all to enjoy.

  3. Sue Hackman Reply

    July 21, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    The probability is that the Local Plan housing estates will go ahead without the widening. And whatever happens, the backing up of traffic along the A3 at rush hour will do nothing to enhance the life of residents who live along its length, as cars dodge off the A3 and route themselves through town-bound A roads.

    Bad news for Burpham and Onslow however you look at it.

  4. Jim Allen Reply

    July 22, 2020 at 9:44 am

    With no increased capacity of the sewage treatment works until at least 2030, it looks like the lack infrastructure has put the Local Plan in the rubbish bin. What a waste of money.

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 6, 2021 at 1:56 am

    The A3 widening scheme has been dropped for the third time. A debate seems to be going on whether a tunnel under Guildford should be built. This has been initiated by non-technical people with little knowledge about the feasibility of such a scheme before the feasibility of a widening scheme or a western bypass have been fully explored by Highways England.

    “Do nothing” is not an option for HE as it has to remove the old Deerbarn Bridge over Reading to Gatwick line under the one built some 35 years ago.

    The old bridge was spanned over and the new bridge over the top carries the A3. It has no maintenance access from underneath. The old bridge must have deteriorated a great deal more in 35 years but it is not public knowledge as to when Network Rail would demand its removal.

    Unless HE plans the works well, a one lane contraflow of the A3 is inevitable and that is really unthinkable.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      August 6, 2021 at 8:45 pm

      The technical and legal facts have already been worked through and the west route is not socially acceptable.

      The need for 20 per cent increase in capacity needs two additional lanes in each direction. If the tunnel is built the old A3 could then be repaired and restructured To provide the four lanes in total across Guildford

      Digging the tunnel needs the political will to allocate funding then it is merely an engineering feat. Tunnels are common as pigeons across the world. Digging through London clay and chalk is not problematic.

      • Bibhas Neogi Reply

        August 8, 2021 at 12:26 pm

        A 50 per cent increase in the capacity of a two-lane carriageway needs a third lane, so why does 20 per cent increase would need two lanes?

        A tunnel for the A3 would be at least 10km long. The Hindhead tunnel is only 1.8km long and the tunnels do not have a hard strip (equivalent to hard shoulder of a motorway). For a longer tunnel, this would be a safety requirement and hence the cost in comparison would be 50 per cent greater, if not more. Where would the spoil from such huge tunnels be transported using an already congested road network?

        Such tunnels would require ventilation at 500m intervals extracting and discharging air located within residential areas. Would these be acceptable?

        Would Jim Allen please give links to information on the study of a western route and any public consultation on this that took place? I can only see in GTAMS report an indication of Invitation to Tender in 2013 by GBC. Was anything actually done?

        “Tunnels are as common as pigeons across the world” says Jim Allen – maybe in hilly countries where they could dump the spoils in the valleys but in Surrey where would you dump 2,000,000 cubic meters of spoil?

  6. A Atkinson Reply

    August 6, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    It was clearly stated, “no infrastructure and the plan could not be delivered”.

    Were we were deliberately misled?

    See the Dragon interview here: https://guildford-dragon.com/2019/02/24/dragon-interview-paul-spooner-leader-of-guildford-borough-council/

    And what was sent in writing to me:

    “Dear Adrian,

    “…..Suggest you start with Policy ID 1 – Infrastructure and delivery. Para 3 – if infrastructure not provided permission refused.”

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    August 7, 2021 at 8:47 am

    Some of us have been writing in The Dragon for years that the A3 improvements would not happen. I told them so and so it has come to pass. As usual, they pursued their own dogma wasting our taxes as they went. Now they profess to be surprised.

    All the Lib Dem and Conservative councillors who voted for this Local Plan should resign immediately or the voters should remove them from office at the first opportunity.

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