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Recreation and Leisure Choices Highlighted in Local Plan

Published on: 19 May, 2016
Updated on: 19 May, 2016
Proposed Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace, Russell Place Farm, Wood Street Village

Proposed Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace or ‘SANG’, Russell Place Farm, Wood Street Village

Proposals for new, large, open, green spaces for biodiversity, leisure and wellbeing can be delivered if the draft Local Plan, published by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) is adopted, according to a council press release.

But opposition councillors are skeptical. Susan Parker leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group said: “The green spaces are already in existence, … they aren’t being “created” they are being “designated”.

And Liz Hogger, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats at Millmead, added: “This is a valiant attempt to make a virtue out of a necessity. If new houses are built, we have no choice but to provide SANGs [Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces].”

Outline of a proposed SANG at Alderton's Farm, Send Marsh

Outline of a proposed SANG at Alderton’s Farm, Send Marsh

The council press release states: “Large areas of the countryside, including important landscapes and priority habitats, will continue to receive protection, and this safeguarding will be expanded to new sites.

If accepted, all future planning applications will be decided in line with the Local Plan, helping to limit piecemeal and inappropriate developments that lack supporting infrastructure.”

The council hopes that the Local Plan will balance the needs of residents, businesses and visitors to safeguard the borough’s most important countryside, landscapes and heritage, in planned, realistic and sustainable ways. Recreation, leisure and the natural environment are, they say, integral parts of the plan, along with meeting the future needs of visitors and shoppers.

Guildford borough covers some 104 square miles and has a population of 140,000 people, an increase of almost a half since 1951. This is expected to rise by another one-fifth to 162,000 by the end of the Local Plan period in 2033.

A large part of the south of the borough is designated as part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), where national policy means that development opportunities are very limited to retain the rural character and beauty of the area.

The north features areas of Thames Basin Heaths, part of a Special Protection Area (SPA) secured by European and UK legislation. They are part of a complex of heathlands that covers a large area of the South East and provides breeding grounds for ground nesting birds that are vulnerable to disturbance from dog walkers and other visitors.

The council say that the revised Local Plan proposes new, attractive, semi-natural, open spaces that will protect the heaths by offering SPA visitors an alternative.

Cllr Richard Billington

Cllr Richard Billington

Cllr Richard Billington, lead councillor for Rural Economy, Countryside, Parks and Leisure, explained: “As well as Guildford town, the central part of the borough includes farms, private woodlands and country estates that add to the green appeal of our region.

“However, too many of these places have limited access for most people and are not ideal areas to walk your dog, have a leisurely picnic with your family or sit and relax in the sun.

“That’s why we’re proposing ten new Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces, or ‘SANGs’, across the borough, nine of which will be new public open spaces. The SANGs, together, will cover some 250 hectares, which is a greater area than the Principality of Monaco.”

SANGs are protected as semi-natural, green, open spaces for at least 80 years. They cover large areas and will generally be close to where people live, giving easy access for recreation and leisure.

The stated aim is for everyone living in new developments to be within five kilometres of at least one of the new or existing SANGs, with current residents also able to enjoy the recreation opportunities they bring.

Under the revised Local Plan, it is intended that they will also deliver improvements in biodiversity, contributing to the enhancement of priority habitats, including wetlands, woodlands and open countryside, and will help to maintain the local landscape while making the countryside more accessible by providing footpaths and parking areas.

The council is already responsible for the management of 1,000 hectares of open spaces, including 65 parks and gardens and 52 countryside sites, winning seven Green Flag Awards in the process.

Cllr Billington added: “A major goal of the draft Local Plan is sustainable development and environmental protection, not only for our residents but for visitors too.

“The tourism and visitor experience industry is really important for us and Guildford town centre is the premier retail and dining destination in the county. Our goal is to maintain that foremost position.”

Tourism is worth £330 million of income for local businesses, supporting more than 6,000 jobs due to attractions such as RHS Wisley, Hatchlands Park and GLive. But there is a view that the lack of hotel space in the borough means many visitors are unable to stay in Guildford and may be put off to the detriment of the local economy.

An Experian survey heralded the town as ‘the luxury shopping capital of the UK’. The town has over 200 stores and restaurants, and the town centre a widely acknowledged historic character, most visible in the High Street and through the Grade I listed buildings.

But the council says attention is also to be given to less attractive areas, such as the bus station and attractions such as Guildford Castle and the River Wey are to be more visually connected to the shopping areas.

Cllr Billington concluded: “This is a rural borough and protecting what makes this a special place is essential. We must work to balance the needs of all, not just a minority. The Local Plan is important to everyone who lives, works or visits the town, villages and countryside in Guildford borough.”

Cllr Liz HoggerCllr Liz Hogger (Lib Dem, Effingham) said:”This is a valiant attempt to make a virtue out of a necessity. If new houses are built, we have no choice but to provide SANGs under the council’s own strategy to steer people away from the Special Protection Areas.

“It would of course be unthinkable to build in the AONB. Although welcome, the extra areas of accessible green space are simply a by-product of the pressure from the government to build the maximum number of homes.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) said: “What is this open space?  SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace) is a complicated matter.  It sounds wonderful  in theory but actually it has a very nasty sting in the tail.

“What is happening is that SANG space is designated using existing green spaces or agricultural land, or watermeadows – and then this gives implicit permission to build on green fields elsewhere.

“Many SANG sites actually have ground nesting birds on them – like skylarks – and so are not really suitable for dog-walking or other recreational uses.  That’s certainly the case with proposed SANG at Three Farm Meadows – the former Wisley Airfield) and actual SANG at Effingham.

“It’s been argued that if SANG doesn’t actually move dog-walking away from sensitive areas, it is just a device to allow mass housebuilding within the 400m-5km mitigation boundary.

“The green spaces are already in existence, after all – they aren’t being “created” they are being “designated”. If they weren’t already green spaces, they would not be suitable.    They aren’t really being protected – they are just being used as a justification to facilitate other development on other green fields.

“Given the proposals for overdevelopment at Newlands Corner, can we really trust local government with our sensitive green spaces?

“The scale of the area being designated – larger than the area of Monaco -indicates the number of new homes which will be built in other areas of the borough.”

The revised Local Plan will be considered at a Full Council meeting on May 24 2016. For further details and to view the revised draft plan please click here.

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Responses to Recreation and Leisure Choices Highlighted in Local Plan

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    May 20, 2016 at 10:15 am

    You do not “deliver improvements in biodiversity” by setting dogs on skylarks – or by building on their nest sites – or by building large numbers of houses in the countryside, including next to the SPA on an SNCI.

    Once again the Executive set out to mislead the people of Guildford in order to satisfy their massive growth agenda.

    SANG is a planning term. I think it must stand for “Soon All Nature Gone”.

  2. Chris Venables Reply

    May 21, 2016 at 6:02 am

    Well said Harry Eve.

    If Guildford Borough councillors took the time to read the Government guidance they would realise that they have a duty to conserve biodiversity, not interfere to the point of destruction to satisfy a biased trajectory.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    May 21, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    The rules say you can’t build unless there’s a nearby SANG. So create a SANG and – hey presto! – up goes a housing estate in the green belt.

  4. Michael Aaronson Reply

    May 21, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    The best answer to this utopian GBC press release has been provided by Chris Venables (“Local Planners Do Not Understand Biodiversity”).

    The concept of SANG is a laudable one, but it depends on the context in which it is delivered. If, by making available to the public green spaces to which they were previously denied access, one could genuinely protect sensitive areas such as the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (TBHSPA – usually known as ‘The Ranges’) from the effects of development that would of course be a good thing. But as Nick Norton has also made clear (Dragon Interview: Nick Norton – Normandy Action Group), it is the scale of the development proposed that makes this an implausible proposition.

    The reality is that the small parcels of land that have been carved out of the countryside to create SANGs will be no substitute for the wide open spaces of The Ranges and the latter place is where the vastly increased numbers of dog and other walkers will go. This corner of England that we collectively inhabit is just too small and already too congested to accommodate huge additional numbers of houses without causing serious and lasting damage to the natural environment.

    Yes, there has to be development, but not at any cost; beyond a certain level the price is just not worth paying.

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