Fringe Box



Letter: Quality, As Well As Quantity, of Comments Should Count in Weighing Wisley Application

Published on: 22 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 22 Nov, 2022

From: David Roberts

As of today, Taylor Wimpey’s application to build 2,000 at Three Farms Meadows (the former Wisley airfield) has attracted 1,239 public objections and 68 support messages.

As first reported in The Dragon NEWS (see: ‘Block’ Support Comments for Wisley ‘New Town’ Proposal Removed By GBC), most of the messages of support continue to be in a standard template form.

Strangely, most are headed “Commercial” and appear to come from UK
and overseas students living as temporary residents in urban Guildford. This has led to questions about their validity.

In the interests of transparency, therefore, I would like to ask Taylor Wimpey and their PR consultants Cratus Communications publicly whether they supplied this template letter, with its pick-‘n-mix menu of points to make, or have paid for letters to be written.

It is up to them whether to reply. If they don’t, we will be entitled to draw our own conclusions. If they do, it will be interesting to compare their reply with what the students themselves can tell us, so that we all understand the truth.

The question of payment is relevant In 2016 Guildford students were widely accused of receiving money in return for collecting signatures to provoke a pointless local referendum. It is also relevant in the light of one other message of support dated 13 October from Mr Paul Hetherington, who heaps praise on Taylor Wimpey for being “committed to biodiversity gain”.

The letter does not mention that Paul Hetherington is director of fundraising and communications at Buglife, whose website says it receives £10,000 a year from Taylor Wimpey.  I’m delighted that Taylor Wimpey are donating to an insect charity, and that Mr Hetherington, who appears to live in County Durham, and Buglife, based in Peterborough, are so interested in faraway Wisley.

But their lack of transparency adds to the impression that Taylor Wimpey may be busy buying support.

Two people have suggested in The Dragon that it doesn’t matter if the developers are promoting a template letter, since groups objecting to the project can do the same.

This is a false comparison. Taylor Wimpey have submitted hundreds of documents in support of their planning application. These include details of their so-called community engagement efforts which many have denounced as a sham. If there is any public support for the project, the evidence for it would already be in the application.

Until late October, however, there were only 12 letters of support on the council’s website. The flurry of almost identical support letters since then is suggestive of panic after public objections topped a thousand. This therefore looks like a desperate last-minute effort to deceive councillors by slightly evening up the objection/support statistics.

By contrast, I have not seen any template letter for objectors to sign, although protest groups have set out their arguments and urged others to support them in their own words. I am not a member of any of these groups, who are only reacting to a planning application, not trying to secure millions in profits. They certainly don’t have the funds to pay people to object.

In the end, the quantity of public comments matters less than their quality. That’s why it’s essential for members of GBC’s Planning Committee to compare closely the long and closely argued content of the objections with the flip and cursory assertions made by the project’s supporters.

Editor’s comment: We have forwarded this letter to Cratus.


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Responses to Letter: Quality, As Well As Quantity, of Comments Should Count in Weighing Wisley Application

  1. Frances Porter Reply

    November 22, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    Local residents sadly do not have the time to read through over 300 documents written by supposed experts, they need help on what the actual valid reasons for objection are on this unsustainable development.

    That is why guidance is often given.

    It is the local people who must have the most input, those who moved to the area and bought/made their homes here and who do not wish Taylor Wimpey to ruin the small but amazing countryside we have left.

  2. Howard Smith Reply

    November 22, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    I disagree with Frances Porter on this.

    I sometimes find that people who move to Guildford have a fixed idea of what the town should be – often wanting it to stay exactly like it was when they moved here.

    Whereas for people like myself, born here and went to school here, whose children go to local schools and who work here too, understand that it needs to develop. I have seen Guildford grow in my lifetime, and the majority of that growth has made the town very much better.

    I wonder why some people don’t see it this way too.

    Howard Smith is the vice-chair of Guildford Labour.

    • Frances Porter Reply

      November 23, 2022 at 2:44 pm

      Town centres are very different to this site which is fields. It os also and adjacent to the hugely important Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area, a Local Nature Reserve and SSSI.

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      November 23, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      Thanks to the disastrous Tory Local Plan, supported by Labour, we will see 20,000 new homes, mostly in the Guildford villages, and 50,000 new cars on our roads.

      How can that possibly be an improvement?

  3. David Roberts Reply

    November 23, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    Mr Smith epitomises the problem. Guildford is not just a “town”; it’s a borough. Ms Porter and I live in what’s left of the countryside.

  4. Howard Smith Reply

    November 23, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    Sometimes I feel sympathy for people like David Roberts and Jules Cranwell. Their fossilised version of Guildford is slowly, inevitably and properly drifting away from them.

    Happily, the town is getting on with the job of progressing towards a better place for current residents and new.

    I feel sympathy because there is nothing they can do about it except rant and rave in the pages of The Guildford Dragon. I hope it’s therapeutic for them.

    Howard Smith is the vice-chair of Guildford Labour

    • Ben Paton Reply

      November 29, 2022 at 1:41 pm

      Mr Smith projects his prejudices onto other people rather than engaging with objective evidence.

      What reason has Mr Smith to be so condescending? What evidence or rational analysis has he contributed to the debate? Is insulting hardworking citizens his strategy for winning votes?

  5. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 24, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    Does Howard Smith think that:

    – filling all the fields around the villages will make for a better place for residents;
    – that ugly high-rise flats in Guildford centre will make for a better environment;
    – that the minuscule number of affordable houses is a good idea;
    – that the failure of GBC to build enough social housing is satisfactory;
    – and that blocking off essential through-roads in Guildford for the benefit of cyclists will make the roads less cluttered and reduce pollution?

    Guildford used to be a great environment for residents and visitors alike but with GBC’s increases in parking charges, removal of public lavatories and refusal to reduce taxes for shops and business, many of which have closed and left endless empty gaps, it has become less appealing in many ways.

    • Lottie Harding Reply

      November 25, 2022 at 12:05 am

      Guildford is still a great place to live and it’s great to finally see some development happening making it easier for walking and cycling. Parking in town is still far cheaper than getting a return bus fare. If we want to reduce the threat of climate change surely parking should increase substantially further to encourage people out of their cars and make buses the affordable option.

      Causing pain to motorists by making Walnut Tree Close one way to give pedestrians and cyclists more priority is also a good thing for climate change. Everyone needs to change their behaviour in a massive way, not think ‘I can’t possibly do that because…me me me.’

      Change will happen, life doesn’t stand still. The population keeps growing and changing and what is needed is a strategy for the future, not a strategy for the past.

  6. Howard Smith Reply

    November 25, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Of course, there is much to criticise the council administration for. I would especially highlight the traffic through the town causing terrible air quality issues that need to be tackled and the lack of social home building which has undeniably slumped under the Liberal Democrats, as examples.

    For those reasons alone I would urge voters to elect a new council next May with of course more Labour councillors.

    But despite this, it is not correct to say that Guildford has not improved, because it certainly has in the decades I have lived here. It is transparently clear that for instance, Guildford is a very desirable place for people to move to, reflected in (unfortunately) very high house prices. To deny this is silly.

    Nevertheless, we can do better and more good quality housing is urgently needed in the borough. And we must find ways to encourage people out of their cars and into alternative transport. These would be my priorities to further enhance the town where I was born and am very much in love with.

    Howard Smith is the vice-chair of Guildford Labour

  7. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 25, 2022 at 5:26 pm

    Walnut Tree Close is an important through road for people not actually coming to Guildford but trying to get elsewhere through the narrow gap between the downs. Parking in town is expensive for pensioners, but it is becoming more difficult to use the Park & Ride facilities, due to the reduction of these services.

    Cycling and walking is all very well, but it’s not suitable for children the elderly and the disabled. Cars are essential. In fact, most of Guildford is hilly, so are you really going to cycle up the High Street or Farnham Road, or the A3100 towards Godalming?

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