This article, written by NAG chairman Mike Aaronson, was first published in the Guildford Dragon on 15 September 2020.

The recent White Paper on reforming the planning system, although a mixed blessing, includes a welcome emphasis on “protection” for green belt and other sensitive landscapes.

But it fails to address planning enforcement. There is no point in having a planning system if it can be flouted with impunity. Would-be developers need to understand that if they break the rules they will be penalised, and swiftly.

 

Aerial view of Wanborough Fields showing the destruction of natural habitat.

 

Yet the disaster now being inflicted on Wanborough Fields in the green belt north of the Hog’s Back and to the west of Guildford suggests there is little prospect of protection or enforcement.

The upper portion of this site is within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and qualifies for a degree of national protection. The lower portion has the local designation of Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).

Wanborough Fields, designated an Area of Great Landscape Value (viewed from the west)

Since 2013, we have been waiting for the government’s environmental adviser, Natural England, to perform a boundary review that should lead to AGLV’s incorporation in the AONB. This under-resourced adviser moves painfully slowly; an online petition is calling for it to move more quickly, and with good reason.

The Wanborough crisis started with sale of the land by a large estate and its subdivision into individual plots of varying sizes by the land agent who bought it. These have been marketed with the suggestion that they may be suitable for residential development, subject to securing “appropriate planning consent”.

That such consent is highly unlikely in such an environmentally sensitive area has not deterred the agent nor, it would seem, the buyers of the plots.

View from Westwood Lane showing site of proposed business development

In many of these plots, especially on the AGLV portion, we have seen attempts at development that fundamentally threaten the character of this precious landscape. These include erection of buildings, fences, and more recently the deposits of large quantities of rubble to provide a vast hard-standing in an erstwhile agricultural field.

There is now a retrospective planning application, ostensibly for a horticultural business, which we hope will be refused, but the damage to the landscape has been done, as the photographs show.

Extent of hard standing laid down from rubble spread over field.

Local residents have valiantly defended their environment against these threats and in 2018 Guildford Borough Council imposed an Article 4 Direction. This removes “permitted development rights” in the green belt and requires all development initiatives to have prior planning permission.

Despite this, planning regulations continue to be ignored. In particular, buildings on which enforcement notices have been served are still standing, and activity ordered to stop continues.

Enforcement appears to be woefully under-resourced by our borough council. The lengthy appeals process also favours those contesting planning decisions and slows effective enforcement. Whatever the planning system allows or disallows, people will push their luck, thinking they have a good chance of getting away with it.

Unless and until planning enforcement is given the proper resources to preserve our treasured environment, the fine words in the White Paper about “protection” will remain just that, and the precious landscape at Wanborough could be lost to future generations. We must not let that happen.

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