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New AONB Boundary Review Finds Blackwell Farm Should Be Included

Published on: 6 Jul, 2016
Updated on: 8 Jul, 2016

Blackwell Farm, one of the strategic green belt sites in Guildford’s draft Local Plan,  should be included within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), according to an independent study commissioned jointly by Worplesdon, Compton and Wanborough parish councils.

Blackwell Farm AONB Review

The independent study commissioned jointly by three parish councils.

The parish councils commissioned the report after finding that a landscape assessment commissioned by Surrey County Council (SCC) as part of the Surrey Hills AONB boundary review had omitted Blackwell Farm.

The University of Surrey propose to build 1,800 ­homes on the site which lies on the lower northern slopes of the Hog’s Back. A university spokesman said that any development: “…will respect the existing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

Blackwell Farm site

The Blackwell Farm site scheduled within the draft Local Plan for possible development by the University of Surrey

But the new land evaluation study, carried out by Land Management Services, an established firm of landscape architects, assessed the area using Natural England’s latest AONB criteria and found that nearly the whole of the 265­ hectare farm was of a landscape and scenic quality that merited inclusion within Natural England’s revised Surrey Hills AONB boundary.

The study also recommended that adjoining “semi rural” areas on the western edge of Guildford, which did not meet AONB criteria, should remain undeveloped as they provided an important setting to the AONB.

The chairman of Worplesdon Parish Council, Dr Paul Cragg.

The chairman of Worplesdon Parish Council, Dr Paul Cragg.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Paul Cragg, chairman of Worplesdon Parish Council, said: “This is the first time that this area has been assessed against the latest AONB criteria and we are delighted with the results.

“The conclusions reached echo the views of our residents that this landscape on the eastern end of the Hog’s Back is outstandingly beautiful. They also echo the views stated in Surrey County Council’s (SCC) and Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) Landscape Character Assessments that this is a high quality and dramatic landscape area that should be conserved.”

Cllr Fiona Curtis

Parish Cllr Fiona Curtis

Cllr Fiona Curtis, chairman of Compton Parish Council, said: “We are very concerned that Surrey County Council’s study has failed to assess Blackwell Farm, particularly when the council’s earlier report (by Alison Farmer Associates) had identified the area as likely to meet Natural England’s latest AONB criteria and therefore meriting assessment.

“It is worrying that this oversight has led to Blackwell Farm not being put forward as an AONB candidate area, and that this, in turn, has resulted in the area being promoted as a development site by Guildford Borough Council.

“This latest study commissioned by the parish councils makes it very clear that development of Blackwell Farm would result in loss of important landscape that rightly belongs within the AONB and in law should be afforded the highest level of protection.

“Guildford Borough Council should remove the urban development allocation hanging over Blackwell Farm when submitting its Local Plan for examination.”

Karen Stevens standing in her garden, in the background one of the threatened fields.

Karen Stevens, Save Hogs Back campaigner.

Karen Stevens, a spokesperson for the Save Hogs Back campaign, commented: “This is wonderful news for a landscape under great threat from developers. We are very grateful to the parish councils for commissioning this independent study.

“It was clear from our own communications with Surrey County Council that this area had not been studied as part of the boundary review and we trust that the County Council and Surrey Hills AONB Board will revise their recommended AONB boundary accordingly.”

A University of Surrey spokesperson, in response to news of the new study, said: “Any development on Blackwell Farm would be built to high environmental standards and would be sympathetic to the locality. The plans will respect the existing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and existing significant landscape and habitat features on the site.”

Cllr Susan Parker, (GGG, Send) commented: “This impartial study is very good news, and we are delighted to see that the landscape value of the historic Hog’s Back area is fully recognised.

“We hope that this study will be incorporated into the Local Plan after the consultation process.  Given the result of the study we hope the land will not be taken forward for development, and instead it will be opened up as an informal recreation area for the people of Guildford as the university promised in 2003.”

Council leader Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham) and opposition leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) were also invited to comment but no responses were received.

In a connected development, a letter dated 12 November 2015 from Cllr David Wright (Con, Tillingbourne), written in his capacity as chairman of the Surrey Hills Board to Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, has been passed to The Guildford Dragon.

Cllr David Wright

Cllr David Wright

In the letter David Wright expressed concern over the delay of the Surrey Hills Boundary review. He wrote: “…the continuing uncertainty about a date for the Surrey Hills Boundary Review is creating real difficulties for our local Councils in preparing their local plans. The case must surely be strong for the boundary review to be started as soon as possible.

“While the Government continues to urge Councils to progress their local plan work, the delay on this boundary review presents them with a real obstacle. Our many well-informed local communities will use every possible argument to challenge the local plans at their deposit and adoption stages and further delay on the boundary review will provide them an additional justification that Central Government and local Councils will not want. If this review were to become a casualty of Departmental spending cuts that will be counter productive to the Government’s wider interests in wishing to see local plans in place soon.”

Asked if the letter revealed a conflict of interest between his role as a GBC councillor, supporting the draft Local Plan and his role as the Surrey Hills Board chairman, David Wright responded: “I do not think there is any conflict. I am simply stating facts on behalf of the Board of a regional body to which I have been appointed by GBC.”

In an earlier, October 2012, note written by Rob Fairbanks, a director of the Surrey Hills AONB Board, it is stated: “The Surrey Hills Board has established that there is a high level of support for a boundary modification among local authorities, including parish councils, although concerns have been raised by Waverley and Guildford regarding the potential implication that the evaluation process and areas identified for evaluation may have on their emerging Core Strategies.

“As a result, it is important that all the local authorities on the AONB Board will be involved on any project steering group and the AONB partners will be made aware of the sensitive nature of the work.”

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Responses to New AONB Boundary Review Finds Blackwell Farm Should Be Included

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 6, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    My fear is those with money and knowlede will exclude their back yards, quiet rightly I might add, but the same criteria will not be applied to Gosden Hill a place of tranquility and peace, the other side from the A3, simply because the two nearest wards, Merrow and Burpham, do no have parish status and the money required simply is not within the purse of the residents themselves.

    How do we square this circle? Blackwell Farm and Ripley could jointly pay for the ‘special status’ studies for Gosden Hill in the process of neighbourliness and good will?

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    July 6, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    So, was it purposely left out of the original assessment to keep the University and the Blackwell Farm proposals in the Guildford Local Plan?

  3. Neville Bryan Reply

    July 6, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    I would say unbelievable, but nothing amazes me about this council now.

    1. Why did Green Belt Study, carried out under the disgraced former councillor Monika Juneja and still part of the Local Plan evidence base, not recognise what this new Land Management Services report recognises? It had previously been recognised in the Surrey County Council Landscape Report, the 2012 Alison Farmer Associates Report, and GBC’s own 2007 Landscape Character Assessment? The same question could be asked of Cllr Spooner’s much heralded recent Greenbelt Sensitivity study.

    2. Why did the later Surrey County Council AONB report, on the AONB candidate sites, not include university Blackwell Farm land in its AONB report? The University of Surrey has been actively promoting this land to be included in the Local Plan, which it probably would not have been allowed if it was widely known that it was likely to become part of an AONB. The Blackwell Farm university owned land, it now appears, should have be included in the AONB review, and excluded from development.

    AONB’s are a national asset. Its exclusion raises some very serious questions here for the parties involved, and particularly the management of the AONB, which appears to allow a very clear conflict of interest for some individuals between protecting our national assets/local tourism and allowing a very good AONB candidate site to be excluded from the AONB review so it can be infused as a major development scheme in the emerging Guildford Local Plan.

    Totally unacceptable.

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