Fringe Box



Letter: The Wisley Appeal Decision Is a Bad One

Published on: 26 May, 2024
Updated on: 26 May, 2024

Wisley Airfield plans. Image: Taylor Wimpey and Vivid.

From: David Roberts

In response to: Wisley Planning Appeal Allowed for 1,800 Homes on Former Airfield Site

Coming so close to a general election, the controversial granting of planning permission for “Wisley New Town” amounts to a local political earthquake.

About 10-15,000 voters in the north-east of the borough will be hugely affected by the building of
1,800 new homes on what is currently open countryside. In this area, the Tory and Lib Dem vote in local elections has been all but wiped out, while a Labour one has never existed.

These voters are unlikely to have forgotten the involvement of rich Tories who since 2006 have had an interest or been involved in promoting the Wisley development.

Along with known Russian and anonymous Cayman Islands speculators, these include disgraced ex-minister Lord (David) Mellor, and former Oxfordshire councillor Michael Murray.

Residents will also remember those Tory councillors who, in public office, appear to have bent over backwards to support this development – notably Guildford council’s former leader Paul Spooner and his deputy, current Surrey and borough councillor Matt Furniss (Shalford).

The activities of this pair included overseeing the retention of the site in the Local Plan after its first rejection on appeal in 2018, holding unminuted meetings with developers to bid for special “garden village” funding from central government the same year, and forcing through the irreversible adoption of the Local Plan during a purdah period days before a GBC election a few months later.

See:  The Dragon Says: Wisley Garden Village Bid Investigation – Where is the Accountability?

Despite tepid opposition from local Conservative MPs fearful for their seats, therefore, this scheme from the very outset has had “Tory” written through it like a stick of rock.

On the other hand, voters will also have noted how disgracefully the Lib Dems have dragged their feet over revising the Local Plan ever since their then leader (along with Labour) voted with the Tories to adopt it five years ago.

Steps could and should have been taken years ago to remove the site from the Local Plan as part of a meaningful review, as the Guildford Greenbelt Group and some in R4GV always urged.

This would have helped reduce the borough’s inflated target for 14,000 new houses over 15 years to a level more justified by the evidence – 9,000 or less. Objectively, there has never been any need for any of the huge, so-called “strategic” new developments planned for unsustainable rural locations along the congested A3 corridor.

Hiding behind bureaucratic process, however, the Lib Dems have consistently let themselves be told what to do by technocrats – salaried council officers as well as consultants with no concern for  residents or stake in the borough.

The Lib Dem leadership’s lack of any policy on local development planning is an ongoing scandal, consistent with what the recent Solace review denounced as the council’s overall “lack of strategic direction.”

Wisley’s owners, Taylor Wimpey, belong to a greedy oligopoly of big housebuilders who conspire against the public to manipulate the property market. Their deep pockets and years of dishonest PR, political cronyism and local state capture has once again trumped unanimous public resistance.

The appeal decision is a bad one and will do nothing to curtail local housing demand or prices.

Sadly, gone for ever is the chance to preserve the Wisley site for the benefit of the community and the natural environment.

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Responses to Letter: The Wisley Appeal Decision Is a Bad One

  1. RWL Davies Reply

    May 26, 2024 at 1:42 pm

    The Wisley site was set for development ever since it ceased to be a working airfield and aeroplane servicing facility and the M25 arrived next door.

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 27, 2024 at 10:21 am

    But in fact, when the land was requisitioned during the war, promises were made to return the land for agricultural use after hostilities ceased. The airstrip continued in use for testing aeroplanes into the 1950s but no-one ever removed the hardstanding and concrete runway afterwards. There was never any suggestion that the land should be used for housing until it was sold to determined developers.

  3. H Trevor Jones Reply

    May 28, 2024 at 5:31 pm

    I don’t know about the individuals and their politics referred to by David Roberts, so can’t comment on that, and to my knowledge I’ve never been country walking in the area to be developed, as I think the Surrey Hills is a much nicer area, nearer to home, for walking. So I can’t comment on the existing natural merits of the development area.

    But I do know that, although I’m sitting pretty, currently owning two properties in the South East, there’s a shortage of housing, making prices too expensive to buy for the average young person and making rents unduly expensive.

    So I ask the simple question of objectors: do you agree with me and, if so, where else in our vicinity would it be better to build an equivalent amount of housing?

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      May 29, 2024 at 2:28 am

      Simple, brownfield first. This has never been properly explored in Guildford, by any party, because it isn’t what the developers want.

      • Paul Spooner Reply

        May 29, 2024 at 4:41 pm

        Absolutely untrue. Brownfield first was the priority in the Guildford Local Plan and most if not all local plans. However only brownfield that had been put forward for development during the plan period could be counted. The SHLAA [Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment] was and remains important to local plan making and delivery under any administration.

        Paul Spooner is a former Conservative leader of Guildford Borough Council

        • John Perkins Reply

          May 30, 2024 at 9:45 am

          One question is what precisely is the definition of “put forward for development”?

          Another is, if brownfield was the priority, why was more not put forward?

          • Jim Allen

            May 30, 2024 at 8:45 pm

            To fully understand you need to understand the definition of “brownfield”. Basically anything that has not been previously developed or green belt. But everything including currently in use. So acres of brownfield could include land currently laid out as parkland within the curtilage of buildings or buildings currently in use that would need to be demolished before redevelopment can take place.

            The term needs to be redefined to mean derelict land.

            Under the revised definition I believe only one acre of the 100 is actually available for housing. Weyside village is a case in point.

        • Jules Cranwell Reply

          June 3, 2024 at 5:50 am

          Do we really need to still hear protestations from the principle author of the deeply flawed Local Plan.

          “It wasn’t me guv“, “a big boy made me do it and ran away” just won’t wash. He and his cronies did nothing to properly explore brownfield opportunities. They were only focussed on handing over as much green belt to developers as they could.

          Why does he think that he and most of his party were lost so badly in 2019?

          The council owns a vast amount of brownfield, which it could have put forward.

          As to the SHLAA, and SHMAA, these were proven at the time to have been deliberately and massively inflated by the Tories, as demonstrated by the true figures for population growth by the Office of National Statistics. The Tory leadership chose to ignore such evidence.

    • David Roberts Reply

      May 30, 2024 at 8:52 pm

      H Trevor Jones seems to think that building more houses in Surrey will make them cheaper. Since demand (eg from London and overseas investors) is in effect limitless, this is nonsense.

      Surrey house prices are also set by factors such as the cost of credit, supply rationing and land-banking by the big house-builders, the country’s million unused planning permissions and 600,000 empty homes, misguided government policies (such as Help to Buy) that merely stimulate demand and the long-term over-concentration of prosperity in the South East.

      Simple supply-and-demand may play a small part in this dysfunctional market. But, please, spare us the GCSE economics.

  4. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 29, 2024 at 8:53 pm

    Who was in charge when GBC decided to use a perfectly viable brownfield site for an expensive and useless “pop up village” rather than building on it? I think the answer was Mr Spooner.

    The site, opposite the bus station still stands empty of much-needed social housing.

    Editor’s comment: Plans have been approved for development of the North Street site which do include a small percentage of affordable units.

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