Fringe Box



Letter: I Hope The Planning Inspector Is Aware of the Whole Background to the Wisley Application

Published on: 18 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 18 Oct, 2023

From David Roberts

Cllr Matt Furniss’s recent letter to The Dragon (My Response to Niels Laub’s Letter on the London Road Scheme) reminds us that it’s not just about the London Road cycle scheme that he owes us an explanation.

He also needs to tell us why he’s apparently backing Taylor Wimpey’s plans for thousands of new houses at the former Wisley airfield.

This is the least he owes us in return for the two incomes he receives from the taxpayer, one as a Guildford borough councillor and the other as Surrey County Council cabinet member for transport, infrastructure and growth.

On August 25, a junior transport officer at SCC signed a “Statement of Common Ground”, apparently drafted by consultants working for Taylor Wimpey, cancelling the council’s long-standing and well-documented misgivings about the transport sustainability of the proposed Wisley development.

This was done on the basis of secret traffic modelling not available to the public and
so impossible to challenge.

It is not unusual for Surrey Highways to crumble in the face of pressure from developers. I cannot recall them ever sticking up for residents instead. But the scale of the reversal in this case helped prompt the resignation of Colin Cross (R4GV), the local county councillor, provoking a by-election on October 19 in the Horsleys division.

See: County Councillor Quits Saying SCC Agreement With Developer Was Final Straw

We can safely assume that Surrey’s sudden capitulation has a lot to do with national party politics, with Tory-controlled Surrey council losing no opportunity to embarrass Lib Dem-controlled Guildford council. But it is also a betrayal.

It’s a betrayal of residents who are universally hostile to the Wisley scheme, filing a record 1,606 objections to date with Guildford council (compared with 143 letters of support).

It’s a betrayal of Cllr Furniss’s fellow Tory councillors who, along with the rest of GBC’s Planning Committee, voted unanimously this summer to reject the Taylor Wimpey scheme.

And it’s a betrayal of three local Tory MPs who, in a justified panic over the implications for the next general election, recently wrote to the government planning inspector strongly condemning the scheme. (At a rough guess, I’d say about 10,000 general election votes in the north-east of the borough hang on Wisley.)

There is obviously more to the matter than general Tory/Lib Dem friction. In his last incarnation as a borough councillor, Cllr Furniss was council deputy leader under Paul Spooner.

Together, these two councillors rushed through approval of the controversial Guildford
Local Plan just days before the Tories went down to a heavy defeat in the borough elections.

Many, including Mole Valley’s Tory MP Sir Paul Beresford, said at the time that they had acted hastily and undemocratically.

Until adopted, Cllrs Spooner and Furniss had had ample opportunity to remove Wisley as a strategic development site from the plan. This would have been a logical and popular move, since by then, the plan’s housing need figure had been discredited by revised ONS population projections, and a planning application by Wisley Property Investments Limited (WPIL) for a scheme almost identical to the current Taylor Wimpey one had already failed on appeal in 2017, the inspector concluding that “the appeal site is not in a sustainable location”.

Apart from assuaging public opinion and saving a lot of hassle and expense, removing Wisley from the draft plan would have saved the Tories’ bacon in the borough elections. So why didn’t they?

Unfortunately, the whole background cannot easily be set out in the formal atmosphere of the current public appeal hearings on Wisley. I only hope that the government’s planning inspector, as an experienced, senior and politically neutral civil servant, is alert to the complex politics of this case and will decide Taylor Wimpey’s appeal in the light of the deep facts.

Editor’s note: Cratus, who handle Taylor Wimpey’s public relations, informed The Dragon that the Wisley site was purchased from Wisley Property Investments Limited by Taylor Wimpey in March 2020 but a legal document, an “Agreement by Deed”, listing points of agreement between the parties involved in the appeal hearing, shows WPIL to still be the site owners and Taylor Wimpey as the developer. Cratus has now added that WPIL is owned by Taylor Wimpey.


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Responses to Letter: I Hope The Planning Inspector Is Aware of the Whole Background to the Wisley Application

  1. David Roberts Reply

    October 18, 2023 at 3:44 pm

    Cratus say WPIL is owned by Taylor Wimpey, but the only evidence of this is a Companies House document saying that the latter have taken a 25 per cent stake, which is not a controlling share. Who owns the remaining 75 per cent? We cannot tell, because WPIL is registered in the Cayman Islands and its ultimate beneficial owners are unknown.

    Perhaps Michael Murray (the former Tory councillor who has represented WPIL as their only named face) could tell us?

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    October 18, 2023 at 10:06 pm

    Perhaps SCC councillors should call for a vote of no confidence in a certain councillor!

  3. Graham Vickery Reply

    October 20, 2023 at 11:49 am

    I would like to thank David Roberts for his inciteful letter. The shenanigans between Taylor Wimpey, WPIL and Cratus should be exposed to public gaze. Let us have the truth of it all.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 21, 2023 at 9:06 am

    Perhaps The Dragon could ask Cllr. Furniss to clarify. After all, he enjoyed several lavish nosebags, courtesy of Cratus, as did former council leader Spooner, during the period the local plan was being developed.

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