Fringe Box



Opinion: Thoughts On A Walk – Looking Backwards And Forwards

Published on: 1 Jan, 2017
Updated on: 7 Jan, 2017

By Martin Giles

“Let’s walk over to Watts Gallery,” suggested my wife. I needed little persuading; it’s a lovely two-mile walk from our home in St Catherine’s along the “Pilgrims’ Way”, rewarded by a cup of coffee at Watts Gallery Artists’ Village’s tea shop. “What’s not to like?”, as the current saying goes.

It was New Year’s Eve and a good time, Janus like, to reflect on the past year and consider the next.

Almost as soon as we left Sandy Lane on to the track that leads to Piccards Farm I was reminded again how quickly nature reclaims land that is not maintained. 25 years ago we would occasionally drive along the track from my wife’s business, at the time, “Suspended Bloomers”, located in a large glasshouse at the top of Sandy Lane, where she planted up hanging baskets and container plants.

Nature quickly reclaims unmaintained tracks. It was possible to drive a car along this part of the so called Pilgrims’ Way 25 years ago.

Now the track is so narrow in places it is barely a bridleway but we agreed it was an improvement: vehicles should not be sharing this route.

As we approached Piccards Farm I recalled how we used to know some of the tenant farmers who would happily let us admire the young piglets, fed on surplus Loseley yoghurt, in a pen since demolished.

They would also, at this time of year, allow us to go into the barn and see the new-born lambs, some of the earliest in the country I imagine, bred mid-winter in the milder southern climate to get the best price at market, around June.

To the left, the hard standing is where the piglet pens were and to the right, the outbuildings previously used for lambing.

I had also, on other occasions, watched them dip the sheep and the wooden posts that framed the dip are still there.

The posts that supported the sheep dip.

Further along where you turn left at the top of a slight hill, before the wood, older pigs occupied a field in which corrugated iron sties had been distributed.

Once, a particularly inquisitive piglet had approached us, probably hoping to be fed but instead its little pink snout touched the electrified fence and it ran off squealing loudly, only attracting a knowing sideways glance from a nearby sow, and rather cruel but delighted laughter from us.

David Rose sent me some photos of gathering the harvest, probably in the 1930s. We agree that the house in one of the photos appears to be Piccards Farm. They were given to David by the late Mike Dancey of Littleton.

Lunch break during harvesting near Piccards Farm in the 1930s. Photos supplied by the late Mike Dancey.

Taken 80 years ago, or so, they show a very different age, still largely horse-powered. Whole families were involved in the harvest and you can easily imagine the banter as they enjoyed a well-earned lunch break with, hopefully, that satisfied tiredness that comes after physical labour.

Children were involved too and there was time for a bit of fun, like posing for this photo. In the background is the house thought to be the current Piccards Farm, behind it the Hog’s Back.

Of course, we must remember to take off any rose-tinted specs we may be tempted to wear. It was also a time, for instance, when there was no National Health Service and sickness could threaten a whole family’s well being.

This collection of garden rubbish appears to have been fly-tipped some time ago. Why would anyone do such a thing?

Bringing us rudely back to the present was a small load of rubbish, carelessly fly tipped by the track. Why are some people so selfish and inconsiderate? But they are and it is a perennial problem that will stay with us.

We reached Watts Gallery and the coffee and cake (beetroot and orange – highly recommended) and tea and cheese scone, lived up to expectations.

On the return journey my thoughts turned more towards the future. Has there ever been a more uncertain time? It is not just Brexit and Trump’s election at an international level the whole future of our borough appears to be in the balance.

How the council can realistically plan within a sea of unpredictability is beyond me but they feel they have to produce a Local Plan to protect us all from the risk of unwanted development from unscrupulous developers keen to exploit any weakness,

The rub seems to be that the draft plan includes what is, to many, a considerable amount of unwanted development, specifically in the green belt.

The truth is that planning control no longer resides entirely with local authorities. Their decisions are regularly second guessed by planning inspectors who appear to be following a central government pro-growth regardless agenda.

Then there is development within the town. Plans are afoot for North Street but it all remains under close wraps. There is talk of public consultation but the various consultation exercises on the Local Plan don’t bode well.

Which way for Guildford’s future?

Even when objections are clearly made by a majority of those taking part they are dismissed by some as unrepresentative or there is a pretence that they have been listened to and changes made.

The North Street development presents the biggest opportunity to improve the town for a generation, perhaps for the century. If all we end up with is a characterless, “could be anywhere”, Farnborough say, or Woking, contemporary development, surrounding a physically overbearing, new “anchor store” it will be a very sad day.

It could be more than sad, with the amount of uncertainty about the future on High Street retail, it could be damaging. It is possible we could end up with an ugly white elephant.

But development of North Street is urgently needed. The oft derided local entrepreneur Michel Harper said that his motivation for backing an elected mayor for Guildford was partly the inertia within the council on the subject. He had a good point but it is only a part of the visionless, commercially obsessed, hotchpotch planning decisions taken by our council since the war.

Some of this is reflected in the planning briefs given to developers. No wonder they go to appeal when they produce plans in line with the steers given by council planners, planners who do not appear to have given any thought of what most of us want or would accept. And that is not, by the way, a town or a borough, preserved in aspic. Who has ever argued for that?

Is this the kind the kind of railway station developers were advised by the council that we wanted in Guildford?

Perhaps our politicians both nationally and locally should listen a bit harder. Perhaps the empty promises given at election time will be remembered. Perhaps some more explanation is due as to why the council feels it is more important to succumb to pressure from central government rather than represent the views of voters.

Our council leader tells us we just “have to accept growth is required” and, of course, some growth is – but how much? Where? Of what kind? And of what style? are all key questions. The council has done nothing recently to show that it is in tune with the expressed views of the electorate over this.

Conservative election newsletter from May 2015.

If it was why did the Tories feel it necessary, at the last election, to pretend they they were going to protect the green belt?

Then there is the persistently unanswered questions about infrastructure. As the retired chartered structural engineer and regular Dragon correspondent, Bibhas Neogi, says, with thousands of more cars to be expected on Guildford roads over the next decade, from developments within the borough and nearby, we appear to be heading for even greater congestion, or as he puts it, “traffic disaster”. And the capacity of our road network is not the only infrastructure problem we face.

Will an increasing awareness of these issues affect our voting behaviour? Perhaps. The Brexit result might be a sign of what happens if politicians ignore public concerns for too long; we might even see some evidence of that in the county council elections in May.

For the time being we will just have to add it to the long list of “don’t knows” when it comes to predicting our future.

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Responses to Opinion: Thoughts On A Walk – Looking Backwards And Forwards

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Why did the Tories make the claim that the green belt was to stay?

    This totally misled the electorate into voting on a pretence which was just not true.

    Can we now trust any such statement again when we go to the polls this year to vote in the County council elections?

  2. Peta Malthouse Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    Little interaction has taken place with the public regarding either the railway station or North Street.

    I am certainly of the view that any development must include good pedestrian access from transport hubs and a cafe society. When people shop in the High Street it is a recreational thing.

    There also needs to be a new policy on parking. Perhaps local stores would be prepared to part subsidise car parks in a similar way to Waitrose for instance. All our parking meters are going to have to be recalibrated. Perhaps there is an opportunity presenting itself here. We have huge talent among our Guildford residents and Guildford Borough Council should use them.

  3. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    January 7, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    A very interesting article by Martin Giles. We are all apprehensive to a varying degree about changes to our surrounds as we get used to them but changes are needed to keep in step with the increase in population, migration and associated business activities.

    Infrastructures especially roads have been neglected over the past few decades and now congestion on various parts of the road network is becoming even more unbearable during peak hours.

    I must correct the description of my background. I am a retired chartered structural engineer. I have worked for almost my entire career with the Department for Transport and I have had the privilege of being associated with many schemes on motorways and trunk roads in the South East of England but I am not a highways planner [Thank you for this correction and apologies for the error. Article amended. Ed].

    However, having to deal with the technical aspects of where and how best to locate and design structures, mainly bridges, I have gained a fair bit of experience about roads, their design parameters, traffic management and safety considerations during construction and then afterwards of the network in use.

    I have lived in Guildford area since 1968 and since then travelled on the roads in and around Surrey. I have set up a website that portrays my various ideas about possible improvements to roads around Guildford town centre and the A3. It is rather unusual for an individual to set up such a website and my wife always complains that I spend far too much time on this as opposed to keeping the house and the garden tidy. I must say I enjoy this activity and more so, because I have no commercial interest and I give my ideas freely.

    I am pleased about my association with a few local activities. One of them was saving the bridge that takes the traffic to Farnham off the A3 from being demolished by using an innovative repair method whilst maintaining a lane for cars on a temporary bridge sitting on top of it. A few other notable ones were technical approval of structures on the Blackwater Valley Route (the A331) and the Beechcroft Drive footbridge over the A3.

    I hope the councils would consider my suggestions carefully among others being offered by the readers of The Dragon and local groups like the Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society.

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