Category Archives: Planning

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.

 

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.

Truly, Madly, Deeply: 1,200 New Homes Approved at Deepcut


Last night, at a special meeting of Surrey Heath Borough Council, the planning application for 1,200 new homes at the soon-to-be-vacated Princess Royal Barracks at Deepcut was approved. The meeting was held at the Camberley Theatre and was webcast live on the Council’s website. I watched it online and really appreciated not having to sit for over 4 hours in a hot auditorium. The webcasting of council meetings will help more people, particularly the disabled, carers and parents, witness council business which is taking place in their name.

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.

This quote is usually attributed to Otto von Bismarck. Along with laws and sausages, planning decisions are often made in unsightly ways. Councillors are essentially members of the public, self-selected to represent us, not chosen for their town planning expertise. This is the system we have because local voters should be involved in shaping their communities and planning officers should be forced to explain their recommendations in terms that ordinary people can understand. However, different councillors have their own aptitudes, priorities, prejudices, attitudes and ways of communicating. This made it an interesting spectacle but they came to broadly the right decision.

Up the junctions?

Like most big planning applications the objections centred around traffic. Adding 1,200 homes will inevitably increase car traffic in the borough. What was missed by some objectors was that it is only reasonable to ask the developer to mitigate the increase in traffic, not the existing problems on local roads, for example the Red Road. This should be dealt with by the county highways authority using their budget.

The package of potential mitigation measures agreed between the council and the applicant includes a large number of small changes to various roundabouts and junctions, money to improve bus services and new cycle routes. Not being a qualified traffic engineer, I have to accept their statistics and methodology. I found this part of the meeting most interesting.

When I was a candidate in Lightwater West, many voters complained about the long queues to get onto the M3 at peak times. Some mitigation is planned here but the planners admit when Deepcut is fully built the junction will be more congested than it is today. One solution proposed by some is to create a new junction on the M3 near the site. I think this would suffer from the same fatal flaws as any new junction for the DERA site further east, as was explained by a traffic consultant at a meeting of DERA campaigners. A new junction would slow traffic on the motorway which is a key piece of national infrastructure. Also, traffic would cut across country to get to new junctions. A J2A would swamp Chobham and Windlesham with motorway traffic, for example. New motorway junctions cost millions of pounds, of course. I believe the answer to traffic congestion is sustainable transport: trains, buses, bikes and walking.

If not here, then where?

The council’s head of planning explained that if the Deepcut site was refused they would have to look elsewhere in the borough to build new homes. She said that this could include Green Belt sites. There are currently no plans to remove any land from Green Belt in Surrey Heath and that’s the way it should stay.

The Deepcut plan sets aside 60% of the site for open green space. Ideological anti-environmentalists have complained about this. The officers firmly pointed out that providing this open space for residents does not cost any public money. It will all be funded by the developer. Much of this space is to mitigate the effect of dog owners in the new houses and the damage to wildlife they could cause if they walk their pets on Chobham Common. The reason certain Tory councillors object to this is because it is the European Birds Directive that protects these species. They are ideologically anti-European and xenophobic regardless of the benefit it gives us here.

The big picture

New housing is desperately needed in this area. In particular, affordable housing is required as fewer people can access mortgages to pay the inflated prices in the South East. Ordinary people in low or mid-income jobs cannot find decent affordable accommodation and the council should remedy this as a priority. Some Tory councillors objected to making 35% of the new homes ‘affordable’. They resent socially-mixed communities and want to thrust their political views into consideration of the planning application.

Money spent on constructing houses is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy. The fiscal multiplier is high because it creates lots of new jobs, business for material suppliers and, when new residents move in, lots of household goods are purchased from retailers.

The council also receive a New Homes Bonus which goes into public funds. This can be used to fund public projects or hold down Council Tax increases.

The big gamble

The council’s independent planning officers recommended that the application be approved. Weighing up all the pros and cons, it was clear that was the right thing to do. If it was refused, it is inevitable that it would go to appeal at the Planning Inspectorate and be approved. If this happened, the potential traffic mitigation measures might not be enforced. The council could also be liable for legal costs and the benefits of the new development could be delayed.

It would have been a big gamble to refuse the application, and yet ten councillors voted against it. Why? Did they not grasp what was at stake? Were they just showboating for the audience? I guess it doesn’t really matter. What matters now is ensuring the new development is a healthy, happy, socially inclusive, sustainable community.

Residents Defeat Garden-Grabbers. Yet Again.


Last week, residents in the Watchetts area of Camberley defeated opportunistMap garden-grabbers. The appeal by the developer against the rejection of their planning application was dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate. This is the third time, so far, that the same developer has attempted to get permission to build houses in the gardens of 30 and 32 Kingsley Avenue.

The local neighbours deserve huge credit for fending them off successfully. Over 400 residents have objected to the applications and they have researched and educated themselves about planning regulations. This effort has successfully overcome powerful financial and political interests. I was involved to a small extent in objecting to the previous application.

The developer is Mr Craig Killoran of Beaulieu Homes. His agent Mrs Rebecca Lord was extremely unprofessional by personally attacking the integrity of the residents. This leaves a very poor impression of a business prepared to act this way to achieve their opportunistic and destructive objective.

Even more disappointingly, one of the two £1million properties is owned by a Windlesham Tory borough and parish councillor, Cllr Liane Gibson. Cllr Gibson’s husband is also a senior Surrey Heath Tory so it seems she was selected for the Windlesham positions because it is a safe Tory ward (only so far!) despite living on the other side of Camberley.

Here is a section of Liane Gibson’s election leaflet from 2011:

Cllr Liane Gibson promised to help residents oppose garden-grabbing. Instead, she did the opposite.

Cllr Liane Gibson promised to help residents oppose garden-grabbing. Instead, she did the opposite.

When Liane Gibson stood for election in 2011, she pledged to help residents deal with garden-grabbing. Instead, she has done the opposite.

Windlesham Parish Council has struggled to represent local people properly. Perhaps having councillors from way outside the parish is part of the problem. I was concerned that by handing out parish councillor positions to reward loyalty, the local Conservative Party may have breached the rules on how close parish councillors have to live to the parish. I contacted the Electoral Commission to check if Cllr Gibson was ‘continuously qualified’ as all parish councillors have to be. They told me that if I believed a crime had been committed I should contact the police. I know Surrey Police are busy arresting other Tory councillors for drink-driving, shotgun offences and animal offences so I haven’t brought this to their attention yet.

Letter Michael Gove sent to me defending Cllr Gibson. Click to enlarge.

Letter Michael Gove sent to me defending Cllr Gibson. Click to enlarge.

Our MP, Michael Gove defended Liane Gibson two years ago by saying that she just wanted to move house. She still hasn’t. They seem to be hanging on to get the maximum price for their house once the planning permission is granted.

Garden-grabbing in low density residential areas causes unplanned changes to the character of towns. The wildlife such as badgers and newts endangered by this application would be a thing of the past. Cllr Gibson’s neighbours needed someone to help them fight this threat to their neighbourhood. Instead they discovered she was happy to pocket the money, despite pledging not to.

The Watchetts residents have won inspiring victories. This has brought neighbours closer together and hopefully will stand them in good stead to defeat any further threats to their area, however powerful the interests involved.

Surrey Heath Site Allocations Consultation Closes 26 May


It’s a tricky problem: everyone accepts we need more housing in this country, but nobody seems to want it built near them. Big builders are sitting on huge land banks but they won’t build the houses we all need there because they want to keep prices high. Government is now offering to back people’s mortgages so that demand is pumped up which might entice the developers to build more. What developers really want is to build on greenfield sites in the countryside rather than brownfield, previously developed sites.bagshot exhibition

Our borough council, Surrey Heath, is asking the public where new housing could be built. They have come up with some suggestions. Their website is here. They have also run some public exhibitions. I attended the Bagshot and Windlesham exhibitions and chatted to officers and councillors about their proposals, and members of the public about all sorts of issues.

SHBC leafleted houses in the borough asking people to come to the exhibitions and make their views known. Perhaps the council should consider more engagement exercises like this. They could consider combining it with other council functions and other layers of local government like the county council and police.

Page 1 and page 2 of SHBC leaflet.

The number of new homes planned for each area

The number of new homes planned for each area

 

I was particularly interested in the sites planned for Windlesham:

Windlesham sites

 

Windlesham map1

 

Heathpark Woods is planned as a new housing site

Heathpark Woods is planned as a new housing site

I think some of the Heathpark Woods site is Green Belt and the planning officer told me that there are no plans to remove any land from Green Belt in Surrey Heath. Here is my submission to the consultation on this site:

I would not like to see site H/WIN/6, Land East of Heathpark Drive allocated for two main reasons.

Firstly, developing here would be harmful to the natural environment. This would be in conflict with the NPPF. The site contains flora and fauna which enhance the area and it provides vital green space for the settlement of Windlesham.

Secondly, and in common with H/WIN/9, there is a shortage of local amenities and infrastructure. The doctors’ surgery in Windlesham closed last year and residents struggle to access other surgeries. The public transport connections to Windlesham are the worst of any nearby settlement. I believe that before any significant new housing is built here the deficiency in local services and retail should be addressed. Provision for new retailers and community buildings should be included in any development. Also, the local bus service should be improved by increasing frequencies before new homes are built.

Another part of the consultation covers provision of travellers’ sites. SHBC should have provisioned 19 new pitches between 2006 and 2011. They didn’t allocate any. This means that new unauthorised travellers’ sites have a defence in court against being removed. They can now apply for planning permission on this basis. This is bad for both the traveller and non-traveller communities. I wrote the following submission to the consultation on this:

The council should choose option 2 and allocate small travellers’ sites across the borough. The current policy of doing nothing risks planning permission being granted for travellers’ sites in inappropriate, unplanned areas. The existing sites are all in the eastern part of the borough. Sites should be spread throughout the borough.

Under-provisioning of travellers’ sites is bad for the traveller and non-traveller communities and is a failure by the council in its duty. Travellers suffer unsuitable accommodation and face uncertainties about whether they will be allowed to stay. This has a negative effect on families and children. Non-travellers fear that unauthorised sites will become permanent due to the lack of provision. This could lead to loss of Green Belt land and pressure to approve other inappropriate uses of such land to prevent travellers’ sites from appearing. For example, Willow Farm in Chobham might become a highly unsuitable mansion because residents are worried about its potential to be used as a new unauthorised travellers’ site. This breeds resentment between the traveller and non-traveller communities and leads to prejudice and discrimination.

The consultation closes tomorrow at midnight, so if you want to have your say, you’ll have to be quick!

Update 4 June:

20130604-121335.jpg

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