Category Archives: Environment

Tory Runnymede Council Blunders Criticised by Inspector


Regular readers will be well informed about the saga of the Green Belt “DERA” site at Chobham Common. I have been campaigning for years to protect the endangered species of birds found in the unique heathland habitat of Chobham Common. Tory Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) want to change Green Belt boundaries to allow a huge development right at the edge of their borough. They have ignored the severe damage that this would cause to wildlife and the openness of the countryside.

RBC intended to remove the entire DERA site from Green Belt protections as part of their Local Plan Core Strategy. Now the Planning Inspectorate has slammed them for failing to listen to neighbouring authorities and recommended that they withdraw their plan. The Tory council is determined to trash this area of Surrey countryside, so it remains to be seen if they will withdraw the plan and if they do, whether they will immediately try again.

New housing is needed in Surrey but there are plenty of suitable sites elsewhere in the borough which are not in the Green Belt. Tory RBC should admit defeat and look for sustainable sites to build homes which will not destroy an invaluable habitat for rare wildlife.

Guildford Tories Run Out of Excuses


As regular readers will be aware, Conservative Guildford Borough Council is rushing to war on the Green Belt. Their acceptance of developers’ wishes to build on pristine greenfield sites instead of previously developed brownfield ones has met with huge public opposition. There have been well-supported petitions and marches, and not just from people who normally oppose Conservative policies either.

Hapless, two-time drink-driver Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, who is still Leader of Guildford BC, has blamed central government and the Planning Inspectorate. He claimed that if GBC submitted a Local Plan which did not meet independently assessed housing needs then the Inspectorate would force a change in Green Belt boundaries. He tried to persuade people to accept a reduction in the Green Belt of their choosing rather than have one forced on us, which he said was inevitable.

It turns out he was wrong, either deliberately or inadvertently. The Planning Minister, Nick Boles, sent a letter to the Planning Inspectorate last week (and made a written submission to Parliament) on this subject which couldn’t clearer: Nick Boles letter

He says that the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, will prevent the Planning Inspectorate overruling local authorities if they decide not to change Green Belt boundaries, even if it means they miss their housing targets. A link to the statement is here. The second bullet point claims that Boles is:

re-affirming green Belt protection, noting that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green Belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development

This puts Cllr Mansbridge and Tory Guildford Borough Council in a rather tricky spot. I was interviewed on BBC Surrey radio last Thursday about this.

I think it is time for Cllr Mansbridge to listen to the public and scrap plans to change Green Belt boundaries within Guildford Borough. He has claimed that the council cannot live within its budget and needs the New Homes Bonus that building on the Green Belt would bring. He has also raised Council Tax this year by the maximum allowed. However, the cut to GBC’s non-ringfenced central government funding has only been 2.1% since 2010, much less than the 34%+ suffered by some less fortunate authorities.

Under Mansbridge, GBC seem unable to make efficiencies or even meet basic expectations of residents. He recently wrote a very long letter to the Surrey Advertiser grumbling and moaning about how it wasn’t his fault that Council Tax was rising, the traffic in Guildford is impossible, the Green Belt was about to be lost and there was no hope of building the new homes we need.

Guildford needs new leadership. We need to get a grip. Protect our Green Belt. Force developers to use the planning permissions they already hold. Sort out the abysmal traffic and transport problems. And stop demanding ever higher Council Tax from even the poorest families in the borough.

Cllr Mansbridge has had two warnings already. He told the Prime Minister that he expects to lose control of the council along with the parliamentary seat in 2015. People in Guildford can’t wait that long. Mansbridge should go now before extending his record of failure. He has run out of excuses.

Guildford Council’s Rush to War on the Green Belt


Conservative Guildford Borough Council has managed to achieve an astonishing masterstroke. In one move they have threatened the Green Belt which is so dear to their electorate and they have also failed to address the urgent need for new affordable homes. Somehow they have also managed to waste a huge amount of money and alienate local residents who tried to have their voices heard and were ignored. In their consultation on the borough’s Local Plan, residents have felt shut out and taxpayers’ money has been wasted on a botched attempt to hear only the views the Conservatives want to hear. They set up a ‘propaganda shop’ in the centre of Guildford to which almost nobody came.

What a waste of money!

What a waste of money!

Since the 2010 election, the Conservative-LibDem Coalition government has set about attacking the Green Belt, the countryside and the environment generally. Their councillors on Guildford Borough Council have joined in enthusiastically. Our country needs new homes but housing starts are at an all-time low. The big developers have pressured ministers for relaxations in planning laws which the government has given in to. The Tory Party receives donations from these companies and is happy to let them hoard planning permissions. There are unused planning permissions for 400,000 new homes in England and Wales, including many in Guildford.

Tories and LibDems would build here

Tories and LibDems would build here

Developers would rather build on pristine countryside than brownfield sites. So, rather than stand up for their electorate, Conservatives are standing up for big developers and planning to change Green Belt boundaries in the Borough of Guildford to allow them to concrete over green fields.

On Surrey County Council, drink-drive Cllr John Furey is the Cabinet member for the environment but he is all in favour of tearing up the Green Belt. Like Surrey’s own Mr Toad, he stopped the council from pledging to do everything in its power to protect the Green Belt. As someone who is known for hastily leaving the scene of an accident, will Cllr Furey stick around to witness the devastation he hopes to cause to Surrey’s countryside?

In Guildford, the Conservative Leader of the council, drink-drive Cllr Mansbridge, refused to meet with Green Belt campaigners. Yet he said that Conservatives are the “guardians of the Green Belt”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 2010, the Tory-LibDem government has slashed away at Green Belt protection. They have relaxed Major Developed Sites (MDS) rules in the Green Belt and ‘permitted development rules’ for agricultural buildings so that barns can be turned into industrial units and there is nothing that local people or councils can do about it.

Meanwhile, the LibDem group on Guildford Borough Council put out a statement saying, not only would they build on the current Green Belt, they would consider building on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty too. As usual, we cannot expect any opposition to the Tories from the LibDems, quite the contrary.

Labour set up the Green Belt and are the only main party defending it now. Ed Miliband, in his conference speech, set out how we would compel developers to use the planning permissions they have acquired to build the new houses we need. I will be touring the borough and the constituency to inspect sites where planning permission has been granted and asking why construction of new homes is not taking place. The 1,000 empty homes in the borough should be in the council’s sights, instead they are turning a blind eye.

Personally, as regular readers of this blog know, I have long campaigned to protect the Green Belt in Surrey. I am not an environmentalist despite being an airline pilot, I am an environmentalist because I am an airline pilot. I have visited every corner of the globe and witnessed with my own eyes the effects of allowing unrestricted development of the countryside.

I lived in the USA for over a year and the lack of Green Belt there allows towns and cities to sprawl out into each other. The centres of towns and cities are left derelict because it is cheaper and easier to build on fields outside their boundaries. Countryside is chewed up and wildlife snuffed out. This uncontrolled sprawl has been a disaster for the USA. England is still a green and pleasant land. Losing the Green Belt, even bit-by-bit, would permanently change our country for the worse for future generations.

City centres become derelict when the countryside is totally open for development

City centres become derelict when the countryside is totally open for development

I am a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and I believe passionately that the Green Belt should remain in perpetuity. Just take a look at the USA and decide if you want Surrey to look like that.

Our Green Belt should not be sacrificed simply to boost the profits of big development companies. Guildford Tory and LibDem councillors should remember they are only the temporary administrators of the borough’s countryside. The people of the borough have stood up and said with a loud clear voice that they want their Green Belt intact for generations to come. I stand up alongside them and add my voice. Guildford Borough Council – don’t sell out the Green Belt!

Longcross South: A New Surrey Village


The 300-acre ex-DERA site at Chobham Common has been a frequent subject on this blog. The whole site is part of the Green Belt in Surrey straddling the M3 within Runnymede Borough Council area but adjacent to Chobham and Windlesham in Surrey Heath. There are some buildings on the site, particularly on the smaller North Site.

There is already a ‘hybrid’ planning application being processed for the North Site for a large business park and 200 new homes. This does not depend on the site being removed from Green Belt, so it is strange that RBC want to remove the whole site. One possible reason is that the developer actually wants to build more intensively on the North Site than the current application.

The latest news is about the South Site. This is largely undeveloped at the moment. It was used many years ago to test tanks and armoured vehicles on so there is a test track but very few buildings. The developers say they want to build 1,300 homes on the South Site. This would devastate the rare wildlife on Chobham Common which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve and a Special Protection Area. Also, there is no transport infrastructure to support new homes here. The roads cannot cope already and this development would cause gridlock in Windlesham, Chobham and Sunningdale.

Early next year, RBC’s Local Plan, which includes removing the entire DERA site from Green Belt, will go before the Planning Inspectorate. I will be addressing the Examination in Public on behalf of the Windlesham Society where I am the Planning Officer.

In the meantime, the public consultation for Longcross South is 28-30 Nov. I’ll be going to that to ask why the North Site has to be removed from Green Belt and to object to the impact of the South Site development on local villages. See you all there!

Objection to latest housing plan at Chobham Common


Regular readers will already know about the plans to build 200 houses on the Green Belt ex-DERA site at Chobham Common. This endangers rare wildlife, destroys the beautiful Surrey countryside and would add to the chronic infrastructure problems here like the lack of access to GPs, shortage of school places and congested roads.

I have submitted objections on behalf of the Windlesham Society to both Runnymede Borough Council and Surrey Heath Borough Council. Here is an example: Objection to 2013 DERA application

You can read about the planning application here.

If you object too, you can email planning@runnymede.gov.uk

Surrey Heath Borough Council are being consulted about this application and they can be contacted here: development.control@surreyheath.gov.uk Their reference number is 13/0618.

 

New DERA Site Planning Application


Here is the latest planning application to be filed by Crest Nicholson for the DERA site at Chobham Common after they withdrew their previous one:

Aug 13 DERA

I was going to post links to Runnymede Borough Council’s website for the full list of documents but it has crashed, again. This usually happens when the DERA site is in the news!

We defeated the last application and we can defeat this one too. Our Green Belt is not up for sale, at any price.

We won the last battle but this is a war, between ordinary residents on one side and the power and money of Crest Nicholson, Aviva Investors and drink-drive Cllr John Furey on the other. The result of this war will decide the fate of Surrey’s countryside, its rare wildlife and the peace and quiet of many villages and towns.

UPDATE 16 AUGUST

The RBC website now has the new plans and documents and it seems to be running normally, at the moment.

Stop Fracking in Surrey


Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a new way of extracting oil and gas from under ground. The Chancellor, George Osborne, thinks this is a great way to raise some money. He is granting licences for exploration all over the place, including the Southeast of England and within that, Surrey. His father-in-law, Lord Frack as he has become known, thinks the North would be a good place to rip up with this new technology but everywhere is now a target.

This short video gives a great summary of the dangers in the Southeast:

 

You can see more about who owns the fracking rights in the UK on the Greenpeace website here. Here is a map of the licences which have been issued in the area around Surrey Heath.

This shows the fracking licences which have been issued in our area.

This shows the fracking licences which have been issued in our area.

The Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, joked about how residents and their MPs won’t like it when they see where this drilling will take place. The FT went on to reveal that 13 cabinet ministers will have fracking in their constituencies, including Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond whose constituencies border Surrey Heath.

Fracking poses great threats to our countryside, wildlife, roads, water supply and our climate. We should be turning to sustainable non-carbon forms of energy not finding new, more destructive, ways to extract natural resources to burn to feed our insatiable appetite for oil and gas.

Please sign my 38 Degrees petition to urge Surrey County Council to take a stand against this dangerous new industry.

Fight to save Chobham Common: The end of the beginning


Regular readers will already know about the ongoing struggle to protect Chobham Common from the threat of a massive new housing development on the ex-DERA site at Longcross. I’m pleased to announce that the planning application for the first 200 homes on the northern part of the site has been withdrawn by the applicant. I received this letter from Runnymede Borough Council

withdrawal letter

This is certainly not the end of the matter, however. On 12 July, the developer issued this statement:

Following the public consultation exercise last year the development team has now looked at again at the plans and specifically the delivery of public space in connection with the scheme. As a result Crest and Aviva are now looking to submit new proposals with additional plans for a 30-hectare country park at Trumps Farm, off Kitsmead Lane.

In response the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said:

Any new public access land is to be warmly welcomed, but unless it is dedicated as a registered Village Green, or ‘Access Land’ under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the public’s right of free access in perpetuity is simply not guaranteed. In the recent past, Crest-Nicholson have transferred recreational land they own to Runnymede Council, who have then used the land for housing development. It is also difficult to see how this land will take pressure off Chobham Common as, as currently proposed, the land will have a formal ‘laid out’ feel to it wholly unlike the wild common. Furthermore, Halogen have said the new land will not have the access for equestrians that the common enjoys. Whatever is proposed, CPRE maintains the view that no land should be removed from the Green Belt.

The CPRE later added:

Trumps Farm (33.5 ha) has been purchased [it turns out from the consultation on 11/7 that they only have an option to buy] by Crest Nicholson to provide a SANG. CPRE submits that as it is a “mixture of rolling arable farmland and dense woodland”, and is fenced against the highway – unlike Chobham Common, it is wholly unsuitable as a SANG to mitigate the effect on the TBHSPA of any local development.

The Runnymede Borough Council draft Local Plan has been revised but still includes removing the entire DERA site from Green Belt. This could lead to up to 4,000 new homes being built here. This would endanger many rare species and health land and is not necessary given the many other, brownfield, sites nearby which could be used for new housing.

However, the abrupt withdrawal of the initial planning application can be considered a victory for all of us who have campaigned to protect the Common. It is only a small victory but a small victory is better than a defeat, and we could only beat the application in front of us. This should give us hope and inspiration to fight the bigger battle to come, preventing the removal of the site from Green Belt.

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

This small victory has been one of many recently: the Lightwater Surgery 0844 number, the dance school and vets planning applications, the M3 acoustic barriers, Watchetts garden-grabbing, etc. There is hope of many more: new pavilion in Windlesham, CCG constitution changes, etc.

What these successful campaigns have in common is that they have broad-based support, are analytical, beneficial and took lots of work by campaigners. They have all drawn on support from many local people and groups. Campaigners (sometimes including me) have studied the ‘rules of the game’, analysed our position and painstakingly (and courageously) argued the case for the benefit of the whole community. This is not easy but it is powerfully effective.

A recent campaign, opposing the Deepcut planning application, which I was not involved in, concentrated too much on making unrealistic demands, and on abusing independent council officers and the opponents’ motives. This is no substitute for hard graft, studying, building alliances and making a reasoned, relevant case.

I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised by some of the successes I listed but these came about by hard work and that’s what we need more of to keep Chobham Common special for the next generation.

Surrey Heath, Rotten Borough


I wasted an hour of my time this evening. I attended (some of) the Surrey Heath Local Committee in Bagshot. This is a panel of all 6 Surrey County Councillors for the Surrey Heath area and 6 borough councillors from Surrey Heath Borough Council (if they all turn up, which they never do).

Regular readers will remember that on 19 March 2013 Surrey County Council voted unanimously to use their power to protect the Green Belt. I submitted a written question to tonight’s committee asking if all the current members of the committee agreed with this:

Surrey’s Green Belt is under imminent threat. Neighbouring Runnymede Borough Council’s draft Local Plan involves removing the entire DERA site at Chobham Common from Green Belt status. The development that this would then allow would be devastating for rare wildlife and heathland within Surrey Heath borough. On 19 March 2013 Surrey County Council resolved unanimously to use its power to protect the Green Belt.

Cllr Pitt and the former councillor representing Windlesham were absent from that meeting and two other Surrey Heath county councillors were elected for the first time at the 2 May election.

My question is: Do each of the current members of this committee, including Borough councillors, agree with the then members of Surrey County Council that no land should be removed from Surrey’s Green Belt?

So, I was simply pointing out that not all of the members of the Local Committee had had a chance to make their views known about whether they objected to any land being removed from the Green Belt. That’s a simple, uncontroversial question. I was surprised that the written answer didn’t answer it. I didn’t get a copy of the answer but another audience member let me read his copy. They just repeated the SCC position from before.

I then had the opportunity to ask a supplementary question. I started by politely pointing out that my original question had not been answered. The chairman, Cllr David Ivison immediately interrupted me rudely and said he wouldn’t let the committee become a debating chamber. He gloated that Cllr Mike Goodman had defeated me in the 2 May election. I was there in a personal capacity and Cllr Ivison chose to make it party political.

He also defended persistent truant Cllr Chris Pitt by saying he was overseas on 19 March. I think Pitt lives part time in South Africa but that is hardly an excuse for failing to represent his electorate. He is both a borough and county councillor.

Ivison's letter in Camberley News 1 Nov 12 sledging me for suggesting a new cycle route

Ivison’s letter in Camberley News 1 Nov 12 sledging me for suggesting a new cycle route

I persevered and at the fourth attempt managed to ask my supplementary question. I asked if Cllr Ivison would write an email to Cllr Chris Norman who is the chairman of the Runnymede Local Committee, which meets on Monday, to inform him of the Surrey Heath Local Committee’s position on removing land from the Green Belt. He refused. I will have to write the email myself obviously.  It was a surprising and unpleasant experience to be treated with contempt publicly by a committee chairman. I have seen lone voices stand up against a room full of Tories before and been impressed by their courage. I’ll admit I found it difficult to be on the receiving end of such an abuse of office as Cllr Ivison’s. His general demeanour is pompous and patronising when dealing with other members of the public but he displayed real anger and contempt for me.

Cllr Ivison has shown this before when I had a letter published in the local paper with my idea for a ‘Bradley Wiggins Cycle Route’ to commemorate the great man’s achievements. Ivison challenged me to attend his committee to be ‘updated’. His committee doesn’t ‘update’ anyone, it just ignores then degrades people. It turned out most of the Tory committee members had an awful attendance record. Cllr Surinder Gandhum of the armed wing of the Lightwater Tory Party didn’t make it tonight. The committee still outnumbered the audience.

I attended to ask the committee to write one short email to protect the Green Belt. It was obvious that they wouldn’t lift a finger to help. I suspect that they had received instructions from drink-drive Cllr John Furey who sits on Runnymede Borough Council and the Cabinet of Surrey County Council. Any Tory councillor with ambition has to stay in his good books and he wants Chobham Common concreted over. This Toad of Toad Hall decides policy in this area, not a pointless local committee.

The Surrey Heath Local Committee is an abuse of democracy. The committee is too big and the audience is too small. The chairman is abusive and evasive. Surrey Heath is one of the safest Tory seats in Britain but until now I have always had a fair hearing at its committees. This committee only serves to prop up the ego of the chairman. Surrey Heath is effectively a rotten borough where bullies like Ivison get given chairmanship of committees so they can throw their weight around.

Will the birthplace of local democracy listen to public support for the Green Belt?


Campaign to Protect Rural England: Media Release

Contact: 020 7981 2819 or 07739 332 796 out of hours

For immediate release

Will the birthplace of local democracy listen to public support for the Green Belt?

The borough famous for the site where King John signed the Magna Carta has embraced the era of e-activism. Runnymede Borough Council’s first ever online petition [1] will close on Monday (1 July) and could help determine the future of Green Belt land next to the wildlife haven of Chobham Common in Surrey [2]. Almost 2,000 people – including CPRE President Andrew Motion – have signed the petition urging the council not to remove Green Belt protection from the land to allow a housing estate to be built on it.

CPRE Runnymede campaigners helped set up the petition and believe the proposed 1,500 homes will have a devastating effect on the protected species of the neighbouring nature reserve [3]. These fears were echoed by Sir Andrew Motion, who said:

‘Chobham Common is one of our finest areas of lowland heath [4] and home to some of the most endangered species in England, including the silent-flighted nightjar. If the land next to the Common is removed from the Green Belt, the risk of wrecking the nightjar’s habitat becomes very real.’

In March, Sir Andrew spoke out about the need to protect the nightingale stronghold of Lodge Hill in Kent. The former army base had been earmarked for 5,000 homes until a planning inspector reprieved the songbirds by rejecting the plans last week. [5]

CPRE Runnymede campaigners argue that the Chobham site’s rural Green Belt location makes it even more unsuitable for redevelopment. The attempt to remove the site from the Green Belt is part of a growing trend for housing proposals on these vital buffers against urban sprawl. [6]The borough’s plans also contradict a commitment given by Surrey County Council in March to do all in its power to protect the Green Belt. [7]

With signatures now approaching 2,000 – including those of historian John Julius Norwich, Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society and UKIP leader Nigel Farage – the petition will trigger a full council debate on the issue. Campaigners believe that saving this vital piece of Green Belt would be the perfect way to celebrate local democracy, just as the borough becomes the focus of global attention ahead of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015.

Sir Andrew Motion speech to CPRE’s AGM on Thursday (27 June) concluded with a call ‘for a return to a planning system which is truly democratic’. [8] On signing the Runnymede petition last week he urged:

‘Decision-makers must listen to public opinion on the Green Belt and make sure that Chobham Common retains its rural setting, and is able to go on offering a lasting legacy of beauty, tranquillity and wildlife.’

Notes to Editors

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Sir Andrew Motion, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. http://www.cpre.org.uk

[1] http://petitions.runnymede.gov.uk/savethegreenbelt/

[2] A designated National Nature Reserve http://www.surreywildlifetrust.org/reserves/show/30

[3] These protected species include rare ground nesting birds like the Nightjar – currently on the RSPB’s ‘red list’ as an urgent priority for conservation, and the Silver-Studded Blue butterfly which is considered one of the most threatened ‘priority species’ in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The Nightjar and Silver-Studded Blue will have their habitats devastated by the noise and pollution from the extra traffic the development will generate. The introduction of domestic cats and dogs into the area will also cause serious disruption to this finely balanced ecosystem.
[4] Sir David Attenborough recently introduced a report called The State of Nature which gave a stark warning of the fragility of our heathlands, stressing their importance to the species that add so much to the character of our countryside. http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/science/stateofnature/index.aspx
[5] The planning inspector rejected the plans this week on the grounds that the social and economic benefits would not outweigh the harm to a site of national importance. As well as the nightingales, the site – recently designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest – supports six species of bat and rare insects like the shrill carder bee. The inspector also noted that despite being an ex-army site, most of Lodge Hill was not “previously developed” but rolling fields. This could have an impact on decisions in Runnymede, where the land in question is also a former defence site containing green spaces. Inspector’s letter: http://www.medway.gov.uk/pdf/Letter%20to%20Medway%20Council%2021%20June%202013.pdf
[6] In March, CPRE’s Countryside Promises, Planning Realities report found that the Green Belt has been targeted for 80,000 new homes as a result of the emphasis on ‘economic viability’ in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. http://www.cpre.org.uk/media-centre/latest-news-releases/item/3264-nppf-verdict-less-local-control-more-greenfield-development Sir Andrew Motion has said: ‘We are seeing Green Belt put under pressure when there are thousands of previously used urban sites that we should be much more sensible about using.’
[7] http://www.rbca.org.uk/news/conservative-surrey-county-council-confirms-strong-support-green-belt
[8] http://www.cpre.org.uk/magazine/opinion/item/3296-larkin-was-right-we-risk-destroying-england

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