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Urnfield Sports Ground Application Rejected Against Planning Officers’ Advice

Published on: 3 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 5 Dec, 2021

Urnfield Sports Ground. The new hockey pitch would be located beyond the trees in the photograph.

By Hugh Coakley

The controversial application for a floodlit, all-weather hockey pitch and a 6-lane running track at  Urnfield school sports field was unanimously rejected on Wednesday (December 1) at the GBC planning meeting.

The 14 members of the planning committee were scathing about the application which had been recommended for approval by the planning officers.

The application also included a new football pitch, relocation of cricket nets, extension to the existing sports pavilion balcony, new athletics facilities, a new store building and additional on-site car parking.

Speaker after speaker spoke against the proposal citing the harm to the AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) by the eight 13-metre high lighting masts and the introduction of a plastic hockey pitch.

Resident Katherine Atkinson said the application “flies in the face” of the legal protection of the AONB. She said the all-weather pitch would need excavation equivalent to “four Olympic sized swimming pools” with a huge carbon footprint involved.

John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity) said no need for the facilities had been demonstrated. “It is a nice to have” for the schools but it didn’t outweigh the harm to the environment or the landscape.

Cllr John Rigg

John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) said the proposal “duplicated underused existing facilities at great cost to the environment”.

Councillors disagreed with the planning officers assessment which said “the benefits of the proposal clearly outweigh the harm that would be caused to the AONB/ AGLV (area of great landscape value) and accordingly the development should be supported”.

Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford) queried inconsistencies in the planning document saying “the application is full of holes”.

Cllr Liz Hogger

Liz Hogger (Lib Dem, Effingham) questioned the benefit to the schools and said there was no evidence presented of “community use or alternative facilities” considered.

Headteachers from both Guildford County School, who own the Urnfield sports pitch, and Tormead School, a private girls’ school, who were providing funding, spoke in support of the proposal

Steve Smith, headteacher of Guildford County, said the existing sports facilities were below modern sports standards and he welcomed the investment being offered by Tormead School.

David Boyd, Head at Tormead School, said the proposals were designed to mitigate against harm in the sensitive location. He said they had worked with GBC officers to minimise ecological and light impacts on the AONB.

There were nearly 600 comments to the application, the majority of which were in favour of the proposal.

Objections to the scheme were received from Surrey Wildlife Trust, the Guildford Society, CPRE, Dark Skies Matter, Sports England, Downsedge Residents Association,

Opponents of the scheme were jubilant at the outcome.

Alastair Atkinson, chair of the Guildford Environmental Forum, said: “The unanimous rejection of the Urnfield planning application yesterday evening was a fantastic outcome for both Guildford and the Surrey Hills AONB. What was really reassuring is that the members acknowledged the importance of nature and its need for protection and enhancement.”

Alivia Kratke, who heads up the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) in Guildford said it questioned the performance of GBC planning department with pre-application advice currently not available and the planning officer recommendation “clearly misjudging the likely support for these plans and underestimating the will of the council to protect AONB”.

She said: “We are at a loss as to why the GBC planning department recommended approval for such a controversial development in a protected landscape. The committee overwhelmingly said no to light pollution and no to artificial surfaces in areas of AONB, and yes to nature conservation.

“At a time when we are looking to extend the Surrey AONB, councillors have sent a powerful message about their commitment to protecting Surrey AONB.”

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

After the decision, Mr David Boyd, Head at Tormead School, and Mr Steve Smith, Head of Guildford County School said: “Guildford County School and Tormead School are disappointed by Guildford Borough Council’s decision to reject the planning proposal to improve the existing sports facilities at the Urn Field sports ground.

“The proposal, which had been recommended for approval by the planning department, would have afforded school children, through a partnership between the state and independent school sectors, access to a range of additional facilities and increased opportunities for playing sport, as well as community sports groups.

“We remain committed to this project, believing in the positive sporting benefits that it will bring for our pupils, and we are actively considering our next steps, including the right of appeal, against the committee’s decision.”

See Protests Over Plan For Floodlit School Sports Ground

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test 4 Responses to Urnfield Sports Ground Application Rejected Against Planning Officers’ Advice

  1. Liz Hogger Reply

    December 3, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    I would like to clarify the context of the comments attributed to me in this article.

    I was not questioning that there would be benefits to the school and, potentially, to the community from these proposals.

    Rather I was concerned there was insufficient evidence that those benefits would be significant enough to outweigh the harm to the AONB.

    The planning committee is often faced with difficult decisions weighing benefits against harm. In this case, we were obliged by national planning policy to give great weight to “conserving and enhancing the landscape and scenic beauty” of the AONB, to quote paragraph 176 of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).

    Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

    • Jim Allen Reply

      December 3, 2021 at 4:01 pm

      It seems to me amazing that a facility that would increase school exercise capacity in the future and help prepare for “active travel” is turned down because of a threat to the AONB while the Weyside Urban Village was passed despite the associated destruction of our heritage in the Wey Valley and the total lack of required infrastructure (including the destruction of the, albeit inadequate, sewage treatment works while there is no current planning permission to replace it). The WUV plan gained permission without a murmur of discontent. To me, the decisions seem illogical and the wrong way around.

    • Christine Wilson Reply

      December 4, 2021 at 7:22 pm

      Maybe Cllr Hogger could’ve spoken more clearly then; I was in the chamber and the quote was pretty much the same gist I got from her. Unfortunately, the committee’s assessment was loose and opinionated. Let’s hope the school’s appeal reveals more into the goings-on, behind the scenes.

      It can’t be right that so many other, more harmful, developments are approved and this improvement to an existing facility isn’t. Perhaps a few subject access requests into the councillors’ .gov email accounts might reveal some interesting facts?

  2. John Redpath Reply

    December 4, 2021 at 11:38 pm

    Weyside Urban Village (WUV) is not being built on AONB, it is to be built largely on what will become a disused sewage work. It’s definitely a brownfield site.

    John Redpath is a R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity ward.

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