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Letter: Fundraising for West Horsley Place Needs a Different Approach

Published on: 4 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 4 Dec, 2022

West Horsley Place

From: David Roberts

See: Charity’s Plan to Sell Land for More Development in West Horsley Angers Residents

Urban readers may not realise that West Horsley is groaning under the construction of more than 300 new homes – a 35 per cent increase in housing without any new infrastructure. So the proposal by West Horsley Place Trust (WHPT) to build yet more is deeply unwelcome locally.

The trust has been exemplary in its engagement with the local community, who have really taken the old house to its heart. Both WHPT and its tenants Grange Park Opera – both charities – are putting down roots here and promoting many local projects.

Largely forgotten during the long life of the old Duchess of Roxburghe, the old house is suddenly the star of a wonderful local fairy-tale, featuring her widely-loved nephew Bamber Gascoigne and the astonishing new opera house, which is already one of the best in the country. Seeing the house in the film remake of My Cousin Rachel and the BBC series Ghosts has added to the magic.

The impact of the proposed land sale should not be exaggerated. There is room for only about eight houses, unlike the big, ugly housing estates going up nearby. The site seems to have appeared in a past planning document as having development potential, although the status of this document is unclear and the site is not allocated for housing in the Guildford Local Plan.

For this reason alone, the council should refuse planning permission, although permission was granted on appeal for five houses on a similar, adjacent site. Unfortunately, some councillors argue that it is more “responsible” to surrender to developers than spend money defending legal challenges from them.

The site is anomalous, apparently being the only part of the WHPT estate lying outside the Green Belt boundaries redrawn by the Local Plan. Building on it would not therefore set an obvious precedent for further land sales, although you never know what Guildford Borough Council might agree to, given its systemic pro-developer bias.

There are other grounds for concern. The site is far from ideal for new housing, its only access being a narrow, often flooded, unmade track. Yet more local woodland and other natural assets would be lost, continuing West Horsley’s relentless suburbanisation.

To many in the village, WHPT’s proposal also feels like a betrayal of the late Bamber’s wishes to keep the estate intact. Cashing in capital assets to meet running costs is never a good idea if you can help it. By auctioning his aunt’s jewellery and paintings, Bamber himself initially felt forced to do so. But as a strategy, land sales are not a sustainable way to run the Trust.

To that extent, the proposal is a worrying sign that WHPT’s other fund-raising efforts to date have failed. Here WHPT’s new director and chairman urgently need to show their mettle. During the six years of the Trust’s existence, its ability to rake in the millions needed, as opposed to the odd donation, has been not been particularly apparent, especially when compared with the admittedly longer-established Grange Park which has laboured under exactly the same curses of Brexit, Covid, Ukraine and recession.

The best solution would be if WHPT, in partnership with its local friends, could find some better use for the land that raises the necessary funds. After all, their duty is to meet the purpose of the trust to restore the house and promote the arts, not necessarily to obtain the fattest price, let alone to boost the profits of commercial housebuilders.

A quick internet search reveals dozens of clever, US-inspired ways for non-profit organisations to raise funds, but few of these have been tried by WHPT’s first two directors. Fundraising is an art, but expensive snake-oil consultants are not the answer. Big donations will ultimately come only by cultivating personal relationships, while selling land will undermine these and squander local goodwill.

Surrey is a thronged with the golfing rich and overpaid corporate types whose complete lack of philanthropy and public spirit would have embarrassed the landowning bigwigs and slave traders who once ran the county. They must be milked of their bonuses and spare cash.

Potential donors might have more confidence if WHPT trustees invested some of their own considerable wealth in the trust. And if shameless schmoozing is not their style, they should perhaps look for a different hobby.

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Responses to Letter: Fundraising for West Horsley Place Needs a Different Approach

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 6, 2022 at 1:55 am

    David Roberts has precisely articulated public opinion on this proposal. WHPT would be making a grave error to proceed with this sale. The invaluable support it enjoys from residents would fall off a cliff.

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