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Judge Quashes Ash Green Building Permits Over ‘Seriously Misled’ Guildford Council

Published on: 9 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 18 Dec, 2020

The 13th century Ash Manor House

By Martin Giles

A High Court judge has quashed planning permission for 73 dwellings in Ash Green because a planning officer’s reports “seriously and materially” misled Guildford Borough Council’s planning committee.

The judge, Mrs Justice Lang, said: “I am satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the planning committee could have reached a different decision if they had been properly advised.”

GBC’s decision to approve the major development scheme by developers Bewley Homes had been challenged by Ash Green resident Sue Wyeth-Price.

Mrs Wyeth-Price, a former chair of the Ash Green Residents’ Association (Agra), applied for a judicial review (JR) on behalf of the association and the residents of Ash Green to protect the historical Ash Manor and its setting.

She said: “We feel this area was just added into the Local Plan with no consideration of impact on the manor and its surroundings which have remained untouched for 750 years.

“The council has been asked, at least four times, by the lead local Flood Authority and consultants to investigate the drainage, groundwater and flood risk issues but have not done so. We also feel a 250-year-old plus oak tree, the symbol of our village, deserved appropriate protection.

“The issues were not given the significance they deserve by the planning officer, in the planning balance, and the issues were not explained clearly to the councillors so a JR was our only option.

“Obviously, we are delighted with the result, especially as such a respected judge agreed that the appropriate weight wasn’t applied.

“This is a victory for the residents, who have been amazingly generous with their time, money and unending support. We are more than grateful to Emma Montlake from the Environmental Law Foundation and John Fitzsimons from Cornerstones who gave their time, effort, guidance and support and helped us achieve this.”

The four-hectare Ash Manor is part of one of the strategic development sites included in Guildford’s controversial Local Plan, adopted in April 2019, days before the Conservatives lost control of the borough council.

An ancient pond lies close to the Manor House.

Historic England had said the agricultural and open character of the setting of Ash Manor has remained constant through its history and the proposed development would cause harm to the setting of the heritage assets, assessed at less than substantial harm.

Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch), said: “We are disappointed with the High Court’s judgement. We respect the decision, and as a community leader I also respect the hard work by Mrs Wyeth-Price. We will consider the judgement in detail and consider our options.”

Andy Morris, strategic land director of developers Bewley Homes, said: “It is our view that the very comprehensive planning officer’s report, which contained all of the information needed for a determination of the application, including all the technical aspects of the scheme, was clear and understood by members.

“The perceived failure in the officer’s report was that it did not specifically point out that the members should give ‘considerable importance and weight’ to the heritage asset in their deliberations.

“In reality, we believe, this experienced Guildford planning committee did have this consideration at the forefront of their minds, despite the absence of specific written advice that they should be undertaking this exercise.”

Mrs Wyeth-Price said: “I’m sure GBC are disappointed, as Cllr Bigmore says, but I hope they will take the lessons to be learned from this. I think our result illustrates that the new council’s approach to openness and transparency is sorely needed.

“My only concern is that it could so easily happen again, and I hope the council will review how applications are addressed, with a more balanced approach, at the planning committee meetings in future.”

This has been part of a long fight for AGRA. There have been seven planning applications around Ash Manor since 2014, all objected to by Ash Green residents.

But the developer has already submitted, what objectors claim is, “an identical application for the same site, with the same problems, even before the hearing”.

Mr Morris confirmed that a new application by Bewley Homes was underway. He said: “At this stage, we will be working with Guildford planning department to bring the application back to committee as soon as possible to ensure members can reconsider the scheme with the correct advice presented to them.

“This will ensure transparency in the decision-making process and that members have properly considered their statutory duty.”

But Ms Wyeth-Price said she and her fellow residents were committed to continue the struggle: “We know until the council really investigate and protect the setting of the Manor complex this will be an ongoing fight.

A 250-year-old oak on the site that Mrs Wyeth-Price says is the emblem of the village.

“The situation will continue until the officers realise the Local Plan does not just exist to give them carte blanche to build. It also exists to protect what is already there.”

Whether GBC will consider an appeal is not known.

See also: Grade II* Listing for Ash Manor House May Scupper Development Proposals

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test 6 Responses to Judge Quashes Ash Green Building Permits Over ‘Seriously Misled’ Guildford Council

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    December 9, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    Excellent result. Clearly demonstrating fundamental flaws in the Local Plan.

    Clearly the planning officers need to take note.

  2. John Ferns Reply

    December 9, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    Brilliant stuff. A salutary lesson to GBC by the ‘little man sitting on the proverbial Clapham omnibus’ who at last has prevailed.

    Copies of the judgement can be obtained by applying by email to the High Court at administrativecourtoffice.listoffice@hmcts.x.gsi.gov.uk
    with the reference:- CO/746/2020 The Queen on the application of Wyeth-Price v Guildford Borough Council.

  3. Russ McPhillips Reply

    December 9, 2020 at 11:33 pm

    As an Ash Green resident who agrees that housing is needed, preferably shared in smaller chunks around the whole borough of Guildford, Ash Green Residents Association should be commended due to the hard work and effort undertaken to ensure the application was diligently looked at via the judicial review. I thank them.

    This isn’t a case of “not in my back yard”, as our area has had substantial building applications approved. Rather, this is a case of seriously considering the need to protect an area of special interest; one that needs protecting and saving from a facade of beige coloured, characterless properties surrounding and belittling the important Manor House.

    I really hope the planning officers at Guildford Borough Council and the developers reconsider their options and allow this specific site to be allowed to exist as it is now. However, I expect my hope will be just that.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 10, 2020 at 7:18 am

    I am shocked that Cllr Bigmore is voicing disappointment over this judgement. It demonstrates that council officers did not give due consideration to these important factors, and “seriously misled” the planning committee. As the leader of the Residents for Guildford and Villages party, Cllr Bigmore should embrace this judgement, as it has the potential to unlock the worst flaws in the hated Tory Local Plan. The same arguments would obtain for the other “strategic” sites, such as Blackwell Farm, Gosden Hill and the Wisley farmland, as well as the historic villages.

    Let’s remember what the V in R4GV stands for.

  5. James Gray Reply

    December 10, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    Well done to AGRA and the other stakeholders. What is frightening though is that the developer will (or has) submit(ted) a fresh application which GBC PC will have to consider. How many times can AGRA fight off the developers? This one feels like a victory on a technicality. It highlights the imbalance of power between local community representatives versus the developers who are primarily driven by profit.

  6. Anthony Mallard Reply

    December 11, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Once again, albeit possibly historical, GBC planning has shown that it is neither open or transparent in its processes, nor does it give sufficient weight to those who may object or raise material issues affecting an application.

    The residents are told by the newer elected councillors that this situation has changed. They now have an opportunity to prove it, upon which they will be judged.

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