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Planning Permission for School Sports Field Development Won On Appeal

Published on: 25 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 25 Oct, 2022

The entrance to the Urnfield sports ground. Google Street View

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

A Guildford sports ground on the edge of the Surrey Hills can be redeveloped after government inspectors overturned a council’s refusal of the plans.

See: Urnfield Sports Ground Application Rejected Against Planning Officers’ Advice

A new hockey pitch, running track and football pitch can all now be built on the Urnfield site, for use by both Guildford County School and Tormead School as well as the wider community.

Plans for the site were refused by Guildford Borough Council in December 2021 because of concerns over its location in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the green belt, but an inspector now says these are outweighed by the benefits to the schools and the community.

Council planning officers had recommended approving permission of plans last year, and the planning committee heard from the headteachers who said better facilities were needed for both schools.

The original application, which also include the relocation of cricket nets, extension to sports pavilion balcony and new javelin, discus, shot put and long jump area as well as increased car parking, received 206 letters of objection and 374 letters in support on the borough council’s site.

Schematic view of the Urnfield Sports Ground proposals. Image from the Tormead school website.

The inspector said the plans should be allowed despite the planned floodlights which could be “harmful to the natural qualities and scenic beauty of the Merrow Downs area of the AONB”.

The appeal decision states that the floodlights at the site, at the end of Downside Road and Little Warren Close, would only be used between 7.30am-8pm, Monday to Saturday and for five months of the year, during the winter.

Calling the visibility of the retractable floodlights “highly time-limited”, the inspector said the duration of the “harmful effects” on the AONB and the dark skies would be minimal.

The inspector said: “I have taken into account the important benefits to the schools’ pupils and the wider community, as well as the limited harm to the AONB, and the weight that must be attached to each.

“In this case therefore I find that these  considerations indicate that the benefits of the development outweigh the  harm, and therefore that the appeal should be allowed.”

The benefits listed by the inspector include the physical and mental health benefits of playing sport, including improving behaviour, building characteristics such as resilience and values including fair play, tackling loneliness, improving self-esteem.

An application for costs against Guildford Borough Council in the appeal was dismissed.

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test 3 Responses to Planning Permission for School Sports Field Development Won On Appeal

  1. Lottie Harding Reply

    October 25, 2022 at 9:46 pm

    Fantastic news. The refusal of this application was an extremely poor decision by the Planning Committee, a point now proven by the inspector’s judgement.

    How can the committee have refused an application with so many letters of support from local people? The competence of the committee should be seriously questioned.

    • Kathy Atkinson Reply

      October 26, 2022 at 9:05 pm

      In response to Lottie Harding’s question (“How can the committee have refused an application with so many letters of support from local people?”), the committee was persuaded by the strong and detailed evidence presented by the large number of individuals and organisations objecting to the scheme.

      This evidence is publicly available on the GBC website if you would like to understand both sides of the issue better.

      Planning decisions are complex and, unlike Strictly Come Dancing, not determined merely by the numbers of people voting for (or against) a proposal.

  2. John Ferns Reply

    October 26, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    In response to Ms Harding’s final sentence, “The competence of the committee should be seriously questioned.” perhaps, but there are two sides to every argument.

    Compare and contrast the performance of GBC’s planning department over the protracted affair of the Ash Manor planning application, now in its seventh year and still locked in a stalemate. This stupidity must have cost GBC ratepayers in excess of £700k given the three appeals and the one judicial review. (see: https://guildford-dragon.com/124205/)

    The Urnfield application was obviously very contentious, with almost 600 comments from local residents, both for and against. However, the “Rule 6 party” process does allow for dissenters to have their voices heard at appeal, which might have swayed the inspector’s decision the other way, as at Ash Manor. That was the dissenters’ mistake, not to seek representation at the appeal.

    Lessons still need learning on all sides, not just by committee members but also by council officers and members of the public too, as was suggested by Sue Wyeth-Price in her balanced letter from almost two years ago.

    With the local elections and the increasing partnership of Waverley and Guildford boroughs looming, it is perhaps too late to change anything at Millmead. Wisley and Blackwell Farm beware.

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