On 13 June 2018 the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government issued the decision to reject the appeal made by the would-be developer of the Wisley Airfield site against Guildford Borough Council's [GBC] refusal of planning application 15/P/00012. This was 2 weeks later than originally scheduled and after the Examination in Public of the Guildford Local Plan had begun on 6 June.

Key in the decision to reject the proposed development were:

  • it would cause considerable harm to the Green Belt as it would fail to prevent urban sprawl and fail to keep the land permanently open (NPPF, para 79) and that no "very special circumstances" exist to outweigh that (NPPF, para 88)
  • it would conflict with two of the five purposes of the Green Belt (NPPF para 80) as it would not assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment nor would it assist in urban regeneration by the recycling of derelict land
  • it would have a severe impact on the northbound section of the Strategic Road Network between the Ockham Interchange and J10 of the M25 and this would be harmful to highway safety and contrary to advice in the NPPF
  • a new settlement in a rural area would, inevitably, cause substantial harm to both its character and its appearance and importantly, although only about 19ha of Best and Most Versatile land [BMV] would be built on, some 44ha of BMV would no longer be available for agriculture

This was perhaps a predictable outcome in the context of an application for a substantial development within the Green Belt but outside the context of a Local Plan. On the other hand, and somewhat disturbingly, it was considered that "the proposals would provide a suitable quantity of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) and that, with careful management, it should be of suitable quality (and)... the development would not have an unacceptable likely significant effect on the SPA."

Additionally, the Secretary of State concluded there was "no evidence to suggest that the proposal would harm air quality in Ripley and that there is no evidence to demonstrate that the changes in air quality, either individually or in combination with other developments, are likely to have significant effects or undermine the conservation objectives for the SPA".

This latter point flies in the face of the UK government being taken to the Supreme Court and High Court several times by environmental advocacy group Client Earth and found to have inadequate policies to deliver improved air quality across the UK.

GBC continues to include the site in the submitted Local Plan, arguing that its rejection as an individual site based on 15/P/00012 was outside the Local Plan process and, therefore, subject to the requirement to prove "very special circumstances", which the Secretary of State concluded was not met. Within the Local Plan process, the Council maintains it can support the "exceptional circumstances" required to modify the Green Belt boundary at the site and effectively remove the land from the Green Belt, making it available for housing development.

Planning expert Andrew Lainton suggests in his blog "Decisions, Decisions, Decisions" that, under the circumstances, the inspector at the Examination in Public might decide to delete the site from the Local Plan, leaving open the question of what more appropriate site might replace it at the plan's first review, a review that could occur any time after the plan's successful examination by the inspector.

Saturday the 26th - Published by Normandy Action Group, 166 Glaziers Lane, Guildford GU3 2EB - with thanks to Keith Witham, Surrey County Councillor - Hostgator Coupon Template