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Reactions to Urnfield Sports Field Planning Permission Granted On Appeal

Published on: 30 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 1 Nov, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

The decision to allow on appeal the planning application for development of the school sportsfield at Urnfield on the brow of the downs to the south of the Epsom Road was bound to be controversial.

The Dragon sought reactions to the appeal decision which will allow a floodlit, all-weather hockey pitch and a six-lane running track on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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

The application was unanimously rejected by the GBC planning committee in December 2021 because of concerns over its location and its AONB and green belt designation, but an inspector now says these are outweighed by the benefits to the schools and the community.

Reactions to the contentious appeal decision came down on both sides of the argument…

Cllr Deborah Seabrook

Cllr Deborah Seabrook (R4GV, Merrow) said: “Many in Guildford are celebrating their ‘victory’, but there are many others who are devastated at the gradual erosion of dark skies and the impact on ecology, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is also an Area of Great Landscape Value.

“There are several ways of looking at planning applications. Those in favour tend to look at all the advantages. Those against look at the disadvantages.

Some look at it from their own personal perspective and some from a wider community view. Others will be influenced by their own background or passions. Some are concerned about sports provision for their children, others are concerned for the ecology and climate legacy we are leaving to those children and their children.

“For the Urnfield development, there were hundreds of letters for and against. The job of the planning committee and the inspector is to weigh all the arguments in the light of the law, local and national planning policy and then come to a balanced judgment. Both sides passionately presented their arguments to the inspector at the appeal hearing.

“In this case, the inspector’s conclusion differed from the committee’s. However, in dismissing a claim for costs, the inspector acknowledged that the balancing exercise is not clear-cut when she said … ‘Taking into account the balanced decision required, the proposal is not development which should clearly be permitted.’”

Sue Hackman

Guildford Labour Party secretary Sue Hackman said: “Yes! ‘Winners and losers’ is not a great way to think about this or any ruling about plans. In this case, there has to be careful monitoring of the impact on residents as the floodlights go up and the traffic increases. I very much hope the expansion of sports facilities will benefit a lot of Guildford children.

My main concern is that our council ended up going to court to sort this out. You’d think they might have resolved the issue before then.  It’s a sports pitch, for goodness sake not an incinerator or a nuclear power station or something hard like that. They seem to be spending a lot of money outsourcing all the key decisions about planning, even which loos to close and whether to expand sports facilities.

“Am I alone in thinking there is a feebleness about the council’s approach to development?  We elected them to do the job of developing the town and they don’t seem brave enough to do it.”

Chair of the Guildford Environmental Forum Alastair Atkinson said: “The inspector was clear in her comments, that these lighting proposals will cause harm to Merrow Down and the Surrey Hills AONB.

“The objections against the scheme from residents, the Surrey Hills Board and environmental groups weren’t around the principle of sports for children but the unnecessary lighting towers which are inappropriate in this location.

“The majority of the local residents are unaware of the proposals and I expect will be horrified if this ever gets built and they see them on top of the ridge. The nighttime lights shining across the downs will be a daily reminder of the project’s disdain for the cherished environment.

“I fully expect when the project team actually does the work required to discharge the conditions (which they should have provided for the application) it will find it is unable to meet the requirements and therefore will not be able to discharge the planning conditions.

“I have attached the image from the recent promotional video which shows the trees clearly being illuminated by the floodlights which at the hearing the Tormead team assured the inspector would not increase the lighting on the woodland.”

Screenshot from Tormead School promotional video for the illuminated sports field.

The Dragon also approached the head teachers of Guildford County School and Tormead School and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) for a comment.

See Planning permission For Sports Field Development Won On Appeal ((October 26 2022) and Letter: The Planning Inspector Simply Disagreed With Councillors On The Urnfield Application (October 27 2022) and Urnfield Sports Pitch Application Unanimously Rejected By Councillors Against Planning Officers Advice (December 3 2021)

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