On 24 May you are meeting to consider the Executive’s recommendation that the draft Submission Local Plan be issued for Regulation 19 public consultation. I know you have a huge amount of information to digest and to consider, but I am writing to urge you to look closely at the proposals for the so-called ‘Strategic Site’ (‘A46’) in Normandy Ward and ask yourselves whether you think they are reasonable and fair. They formed no part of the Regulation 18 public consultation in 2014 and therefore came out of the blue to local residents when this latest version of the Plan was published last month. Our MP, Jonathan Lord, has said he is “appalled and aghast at the proposals” (letter to constituents 3 May); both our Surrey County Councillor, Keith Witham, and our own Guildford Borough Councillor, David Bilbe, have said they oppose them (‘Surrey Advertiser’ 6 May, p2). At the GBC Executive meeting on 11 May Cllr Spooner acknowledged he had received numerous emails from local residents opposing the plans – he thought around 500.
Why is there such dismay and outrage in Normandy at what is being proposed? Essentially because the area that has been selected for the construction of 1100 homes plus a 7 form entry secondary school is the least spoiled and environmentally most valuable part of Normandy. It looks like this:
The area comprises all the available land between Glaziers Lane and Westwood Lane, between Guildford Road and the railway line, a total of 75 hectares. It is shown in the map described “Normandy Flexford that you have in Appendix ‘H’ of your meeting pack. From this you will see that the development will fill in all the open space between the two hamlets of Normandy and Flexford (two of the five that together make up ‘Normandy’) – the very open space that contributes to the openness of the Green Belt and which should therefore be a basis for leaving it in the Green Belt (NPPF para 86). It will eliminate the space between Normandy and Flexford, whose combined population will increase from 1784 to 4424, an increase of 175%.
This is not a little bit of infilling, or a development on the edge of a village; it will fundamentally alter the character of our community. We have been told that these developments will achieve “greater sustainability for the village” but these are unspecified and un-evidenced and certainly no-one has asked us what we think. Local opposition has been shown by the emails to the Executive mentioned above, and at a meeting organised by the Normandy Action Group that was attended by well over 200 people. If you would like to appreciate better why this is so unpopular you can read this blog post here.
How has this come about when the proposed ‘strategic site’ did not even feature in the 2014 version of the Local Plan? The answer is that a developer, Taylor Wimpey, has managed to obtain an option on most of the land in question and has proposed to the Council that in return for being allowed to build 1100 houses it will allow the Council to put a secondary school on its site. Residents of Normandy are astonished that anyone should think that the middle of nowhere is a good place to build a secondary school. The only rationale offered is that we have a railway station – actually an unstaffed halt, that could easily be replicated somewhere else. Furthermore no-one, not even Councillor Witham, has been able to unearth data from Surrey County Council that shows that a secondary school on this scale in West Guildford is needed.
We cannot believe that it is legitimate to take land out of the Green Belt so that 1100 houses can be built against an unproven need for a secondary school – in an unsuitable location. We also believe that the Council has failed to take into account the specific policies that would restrict a development of this scale so close to the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (NPPF para 119). We have huge concerns about the capacity of the local infrastructure to support a doubling in size of Normandy – the road network in the area is already at capacity and not susceptible to expansion. The water table in the area is high and we regularly have flooding – including in the aforementioned station’s car park – and sewage backflow.
Cllr Spooner has said that if infrastructure improvements are not forthcoming the Council will not support the housing numbers in the latest draft (‘Guildford Dragon’, 6 May), but how can we have faith in future promises from third parties about the infrastructure that may or may not be delivered? Once the land is removed from the Green Belt it is gone forever.
There will of course be challenges on all these fronts as the Plan goes forward. However it is in no-one’s interest that Guildford produces a Plan that fails to satisfy the Inspector. The purpose of this message is not to anticipate challenge down the line but rather to appeal to your sense of natural justice. Do you really believe that it is ethically acceptable to change so drastically the character of two of the villages in the Borough in a way that runs so counter to the wishes of its inhabitants, simply because a developer has spotted a commercial opportunity? I respectfully urge you to reconsider while there is still time.