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Wisley Action Group Angry As Call For Details Of Would-be Developers Is Refused

Published on: 30 Jan, 2015
Updated on: 30 Jan, 2015

The Wisley Action Group (WAG) is angry in that its calls for details of the company behind plans to build on the former Wisley airfield site have be rebuffed.

WAG has written to the project’s co-ordinators Causeway Land, and says its request has been refused “on grounds that the information isn’t relevant to the planning application 15/P/00012 for a new town at Wisley”.

The area at Wisley earmarked for development. Picture from the Wisley Action group's website.

The area at Wisley earmarked for development. Picture from the Wisley Action Group’s website.

The action group is concerned at what it sees as plans “to build a ‘new town’ embracing 2,100 houses” at Three Farms Meadows, the former airfield site.

WAG’s letter asked for disclosure of the corporate details of the land owners and would-be developers Wisley Property Investments Ltd (WPI) “in the interests of clarity and transparency for Guildford residents”.

WAG Committee member Helen Jefferies said: “We believe the people of Guildford have a right to know more about the company and the people behind any organisation with plans to totally transform the borough by parachuting-in a ‘new town’ in the green belt. Their reluctance to step forward must surely be a matter for concern to us all.”

In his response to WAG’s requests, the spokesman for Causeway Land, Michael Murray replied, writing:  “The site is owned by Wisley Property Investments Ltd. WPIL complies with all UK laws and regulations.”

WAG reports that the company is thought to be based in the Cayman Islands, “so that profits need not be subject to tax in the UK and could remain off-shore”.

Mrs Jefferies added: “It seems clear that the owners of the land hope to remain anonymous while, at the same time, trying to convince Guildford residents in their literature that proposals for a new town on our precious green belt should be welcomed.

“We realise there is no legal requirement for them to step out from behind a shield of anonymity but we believe it would be in the best interests of clarity and transparency.”

WAG has also queried a claim by Michael Murray that more than 60% of feedback from his public consultation events in the area was either ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’.

Mrs Jefferies said: “It is perhaps significant that Mr Murray has produced no statistical evidence to support his sweeping claims but those of us who attended the ‘events’ in East Horsley, Ripley and Guildford left with a very different impression about public reaction. Most people seemed rather less than positive about the plans – many downright disgruntled.”

WAG also disputes other claims by Wisley Property Investments, including the status and availability of the land.

It adds that writing to WAG, Peter Village QC, “has described draft Local Plan proposals for a ‘new town’ at Wisley as ‘irrational’ and concluded that ‘there is demonstrably insufficient land to accommodate a sustainable new settlement on this site’.”

WAG is also saying that many Ockham residents and some neighbouring parish councils have yet to receive formal notification of the planning application for the former Wisley airfield.

Helen Jefferies again: “Yet responses and objections to plan 15/P/00012 are officially required within 35 days of Guildford Borough Council’s official letter of January 13, 2015 – by February 18.

“Guildford Borough Council appears to have been somewhat selective in their circulation of the planning application details. Neither I nor anyone else in my family has received a planning letter from Guildford, and we are informed that some parish councils in the vicinity have also been ignored – namely Ripley, Effingham, West and East Horsley.”

WAG states that that “while Ockham Parish Council has been granted an extension until March 31, others are still required to make their comments in less than three weeks”.

However, it is now understood that Guildford Borough Council has extended the consultation period to March 31 for all parties, and will be writing to residents, consultees and parish councils to confirm.

“I’ve written to Chris Mansfield [GBC] asking for an explanation,” said Mrs Jefferies. “Plans for a massive assault on Guildford’s green belt is of concern to everyone in the borough.”

Click here for Wisley Action Group’s website.


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Responses to Wisley Action Group Angry As Call For Details Of Would-be Developers Is Refused

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    January 31, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Try this web site to as a start..

    Then go to companies house and look for the directors of all companies named and look for the common denominator..

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    January 31, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    The trouble for the British public is that Wisley Property Investments Limited (WPIL) is incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

    It does not file returns and accounts at Companies House in the UK.

    Company Law in the Caymans does not provide a facility for the public to interrogate the public record to obtain a copy of the company’s shareholders’ register.

    If WPIL were incorporated in the UK it would be easy to discover who owns it. A £3 fee to Companies House would produce a list of shareholders.

    The public face of this development company is Mike Murray. He is a Conservative Party borough councillor in the Vale of White Horse where he holds or held the office of lead councillor for planning.

    In para 3.31 pf the planning statement attached to application 15/P/00012 we learn that WPIL entered in to a Planning Performance Agreement with Guildford Borough Council. ‘The PPA provides an agreed programme of meetings, attendees, and responses as part of constructive dialogue over the formation of the Project.’

    In Para 1.2 its states ‘The Development has been drafted over a number of years (sic) in close liaison with key consultees, statutory bodies, stakeholders, Guildford Borough and Surrey County Councils.’

    In Para 1.3 it states: ‘The principle of a new settlement at Wisley attracts local policy support. The site has been identified as a new settlement and hence removed from the Green Belt within the emerging GBLP, as justified by the Borough Council’s evidence base’. Look it up. That is a verbatim quote.

    In para 1.14 it states:’To demonstrate the critical mass created, on completion, the new village settlement will be the third largest settlement in the Borough exceeded only by Ash/Tongham and Guildford Town.’

    In para 1.15 it states: ‘The Site itself is environmentally unconstrained and subject to planning; (sic) there are no other site constraints or site specific infrastructure requirements which would prevent development coming forward from the 3 to 5 year time frame.’

    In para 1.11 it states; ‘…the Applicant proposes to commit not to deliver the extant consent for a Waste facility as this is not the type of waste development needed now to reflect need and technology, nor is it currently economically viable.’

    In my opinion, it’s all done and dusted. All sown up by the developer and Guildford Borough Council pursuant to an undisclosed Planning Performance Agreement. The public is ‘tucked up in bed’. Public concern? a minor inconvenience as it has been put into check mate before the application has even been heard.

    Some minor questions?

    Has the site been taken out of the green belt? When? By whom? Stephen Mansbridge and the developer?

    Are there no environmental constraints on the site? What about the facts that at least 30% of it is within 400m of a special protection area? And that all of it is within 5km of the SPA.

    Is there permissioned access to the A3 for this development? Or was that the permission for the waste plant which they now no longer wish to pursue? Wasn’t the waste facility a ‘very special circumstance’ justifying building on the green belt? And it was so special and urgent that the developer has not lifted a finger to build it in the subsequent six or so years? And the need was so compelling that within six years the need has already evaporated – according to this planning application.

    And where are the mystery people behind all of these claims? Hiding behind the anonymity of a Caymans corporation leaving Mr Murray, a respectable Conservative Party councillor to front up for them?

    Does GBC have any ‘Chinese Walls’ between the officials who deliver ‘planning performance agreements’ and those who are supposed to enforce the law and regulate planning?

    What about the conflict of interest of receiving over £100,000 in exchange for a planning performance agreement and being in a position to grant permission? How does GBC address this?

    GBC has refused to even disclose the demographic model on which its housing projections are based when asked in a Freedom of Information Request. How is that consistent with its claims to be ‘open and accountable’?

    And why was this the only site in the borough identified as a possible site for a ‘new settlement’? Were any other sites examined? Was a ‘sequential test’ applied?

    Was it put into the draft local plan in order to provide a Very Special Circumstance?

    Para 1.16 states: ‘Included is a Statement on Green Belt Very Special Circumstances (App3) which outlines the overriding reasons why in this special and exceptional case the Site may be released for development. The notable reasons for this are: * The Site’s status as a draft allocation in the emerging Guildford Local Plan (GBLP)’

    Well there we have it. In a marvellous piece of circular logic the very special circumstance is….that GBC has allocated it in the draft Local Plan.

    It is very special because GBC has already determined that it is very special and the applicant uses the allocation as the first in its list of very special circumstances.

    To me, this looks odd. It smells odd. Maybe that’s because it is?

  3. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    February 4, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Unfortunately, Wisley Property Investments Ltd is a ‘Cayman Islands Incorporated SPV’.

    SPV is a tax haven term standing for Special Purpose Vehicle.

    The special purpose is to make a billion pounds of tax-free money while remaining anonymous. As a Cayman incorporated entity, we cannot check whether the ‘Ultimate Beneficial Owner’ has a conflict of interest.

    • Peter Hammond Reply

      February 5, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      I am not surprised WAG were rebuffed by Causeway Land when they requested details of the directors behind Wisley Property Investments.

      What difference does it really make to the planning application?

      The ultimate planning certificate whether for approval or refusal is only relevant to the land and will have no bearing on who ultimately builds the houses.

      No doubt if permission is granted (and I hope it is not) the land will be sold on to a reputable national house builder. As regards the tax status of the arrangements – I am hopeful that when money is handed over to the land owners the lawyers and tax authorities will be all over it, that is if there is any left after Guildford BC take their slice of affordable and CIL.

      In my opinion, the people behind Wisley Property Investments are sensible hiding. It was only a year ago that a land owner in East Horsley received death threat letters when he submitted an application for houses on green belt land.

      Why would you want to put yourself through that?

      • Anna-Marie Davis Reply

        February 6, 2015 at 9:01 pm

        I think it is important from a governance perspective that we can check that those who give permission to build have not got a conflict of interest which predisposes them to support the application.

        How can we check that the Tory councillors backing this sale do not stand to profit from it if we don’t know who the ultimate beneficial owner is?

        Smoke and mirrors, as opposed to transparency and accountability.

        • Dominique Kelly Reply

          February 9, 2015 at 9:37 am

          Interesting the reference to Tory councillors, is there a reason for the party reference?

          I have just moved to the area and have been aware of this proposed development in various guises over the years and it does have a Conservative party fingerprint all over it: from the Conservative Rt Hon David Mellor MP as previous owner of the site through his Warf Land Investments company, to a previous director of this company. a Michael Murray who seems to be a director in Causeway Land Investment.

          Is this the same Mr Murray who is a Conservative party councillor from The Vale of White Horse District Council in Oxfordshire and cabinet member for planning policy, including the core strategy? Quite a portfolio of responsibilities.

          His company website seems to be heavily involved in development and part of its credentials says “Causway Land work is ongoing for the promotion of a new sustainable settlement of over 2,000 housing units in the South East of England” – one may to assume this is the development in question in this thread as he has been quite vocal publicly in support of the above development in the past all the way from Oxford.

          Obviously this is all legitimate in any case – people can do what they want. It just seems strange for this development proposal to have such close ties to a Conservative Party who pledged to protect the green belt in Local and national elections, yet have reneged.

          As an observer, they seem hell-bent on concreting it over in the name of “growth” using that throwaway “sustainable” tag and actively open about being associated with excessive and unjustifiable green belt development proposals outside of the existing local plans and proposing unjustified changes in green belt boundaries according to my neighbours.

          I think if, as a nation we are to “sell” off our children’s green and pleasant fields, we have to have what Ms Davis rightly describes as “transparency and accountability” verses “smoke and mirrors”.

  4. Tony Edwards Reply

    February 5, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    One thing seems clear – in the event that this massive assault on the green belt were ever to be approved, the only beneficiaries would be an anonymous, off-shore company who would pay no tax on profits in the UK.

    Selling-off our green belt and urban open spaces has little to do with housing need and more to do with financial greed.

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