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Protests Over Plan For Floodlit School Sports Ground

Published on: 24 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 25 Feb, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Guildford Borough Council’s planning committee has been hit by a deluge of 570 letters over the application by Tormead School for a floodlit hockey pitch at the Guildford County School’s Urnfield sports ground in Merrow.

Two-thirds of the letters back the proposal which also includes a six-lane all-weather running track, a football pitch, relocation of cricket nets, extension to sports pavilion balcony, new athletics facilities and additional car parking.

Schematic view of the Urnfield Sports Ground proposals (image from the Tormead school website).

But environmental groups, including supporters of Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Surrey Wildlife Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Dark Skies Matter and the Guildford Environment Forum, are strongly opposed.

Alastair Atkinson, the Forum’s chairman, said an exceptional need for the new facilities had not been demonstrated and there had been no environmental impact assessment.

He said: “The development would take two irreversible bites out of the AONB, a physical bite into the landscape and a second, bigger bite eating into the dark skies.

“They can’t tell you what the impact is on the bats because they have not assessed it.”

Residents have posted their objections on lampposts in the area including this photomontage view from Merrow Downs showing the 15m floodlights on the skyline.

Cllr Steven Lee (Lib Dem, Merrow) said residents had offered suggestions to mitigate “the light and traffic pollution from the developments”, adding: “The broad consensus is that the application is quite reasonable.”

But Cllr John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity), whose children had attended Tormead and County Schools, said: “There is no clear evidence to prove a planning need to develop in the AONB. The AONB is the final frontier and must be defended.”

Mrs I R Hildyard, who has three grandchildren at the County School, said: “The use of an illuminated pitch will prove of great benefit to the fitness and wellbeing of children during the winter months.”

Urnfield sports ground. The new hockey pitch is to be located beyond the trees in the left foreground.

Cllr Deborah Seabrook (R4GV, Merrow), said: “Gradual erosion of our countryside and dark skies cannot continue if we are to maintain the ecosystems on which our lives depend. I therefore urge the schools to take account of the constructive suggestions made to modify their proposals.”

Other support letters cited the importance of exercise at school. Nicky Evans said: “Sport improves mental and physical health and encourages team-building. Absolutely crucial for youngsters in this day and age.”

Lucy Bush said: “For many years we have been looking for ways to promote the importance of sport, particularly with girls.”

And Julia Powell said: “Tormead pupils are regularly taken by coaches across Guildford to Surrey Sports Park at peak times, taking up valuable time and adding to the huge congestion in the town centre.”

The Labour Party’s Sue Hackman said the development should not go ahead until “residents were satisfied neither floodlights nor car park will disturb their quality of life”. Resident’s rights were protected under the law, she added. “They should not have to beg to be heard.”

County Cllr Mark Brett-Warburton (Con, Guildford South East) said: “Can the same money be invested in collaboration with GBC to enhance a shared facility at Spectrum, providing both the needed sports ground and not impacting on the AONB?”

Merrow residents Robert and Anita White said: “This area is dark at night now. Why aren’t they spending the money on Spectrum or continuing with the Surrey Sports Park. The Tormead parents won’t be affected, it will be the local residents.”

Tormead parent Wendy Hastie said: “Sport is a vital part of children’s education and its benefits to wellbeing in our children cannot be underestimated.”

A joint statement from the two schools stressed the importance of the Urnfield improvements and said: “This is a great example of the maintained and independent education sectors working in true partnership, to the benefit of our pupils and the wider community.”

Antonella Bosco-Reid, deputy head at Guildford County School, said they did not have facilities for “high-quality athletics” and the plans would allow them to develop opportunities for the pupils to enjoy hockey, football and cricket.

Tormead head David Boyd encouraged people to write to the council with their support and added: “This is an excellent project, not only for Tormead, but for Guildford County School and the other community sports clubs, who will be able to use the site’s facilities when they are not engaged for school sport.”

The school’s agent, Maddox Planning, has been asked about the cost of the proposed works but no response was had by time of publication.

A date for the planning meeting has not been announced but could be on March 3.

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test 3 Responses to Protests Over Plan For Floodlit School Sports Ground

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 24, 2021 at 9:01 pm

    No problem with lights if they follow dark skies principles. Switch off after use; proper shades, so no light spill; footlights, not pole lights in the car park.

    Bottom line the school needs a qualified lighting Engineer, rare beast that they are, to meet everyone’s needs.

  2. Steven Lee Reply

    February 25, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    You misspelt my name and mischaracterised my quote but otherwise good job.

    Here’s the question put to me and what I actually said:

    Your Question:
    “The application has been characterised as schools and parents Vs Merrow residents and environmental groups.
    The planning portal says the proposal is in the Holy Trinity ward. Merrow residents may be affected as well.
    Do you support the application?”

    My Answer:
    “Whilst some have characterised the Urnfield debate as schools and parents Vs Merrow residents and environmental groups the truth is that these parties are working together to ensure that we end up with the best possible outcome for all.

    Most people would agree that we want to see Guildford host the best facilities for our children whilst respecting residents’ rights to a good quality of life and giving due consideration and protection to our world class natural environment.

    My Merrow residents are concerned about light and traffic pollution from the development but have offered suggestions to mitigate these and move the project forward. Otherwise the broad consensus is that the application is quite reasonable.”

    Steven Lee is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Merrow

    Editor’s response: Apologies for the misspelt name, now corrected.
    I do not believe that we have mischaracterised your quote. We have tried for a balanced report and, to keep the word count down, we have to select quotes from a range of viewpoints which reflect the comments available to us.

  3. Rob White Reply

    March 1, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    This is to expand on the comments by my wife and I (Rob and Anita White).

    We were talking to the reporter about the bats and other wildlife (e.g. owls) that will be impacted by the floodlights. Currently there is little light pollution as the field is surrounded by farms, woods and the downs and suddenly the council thinks it is acceptable to have floodlights lighting up the area impacting on the wildlife.

    Another point was the impact of traffic as the location isn’t served by regular public transport, therefore the expectation is that the majority of users will drive. Also I imagine very few of the children benefitting will be local children increasing the traffic.

    Looking at the plans with running tracks, football pitches and cricket facilities, the intention is that this will be heavily used and suddenly a quiet street will have coaches and streams of cars going up and down at all hours, not only impacting the residents but also the wildlife. It sounds as if it will have more facilities than the Spectrum!

    The other point was that we have other sporting facilities for instance Spectrum, Surrey University, High School and others, better served by public transport and not impacting on a local community or AONB.

    The Spectrum is being considered for refurbishment so why doesn’t the council work with the schools to ensure their future investment in the Spectrum is fully utilised and meets the needs of the schools rather than eating into the greenbelt.

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