There is massive opposition in the town of Haslemere to the inclusion of parts of its treasured green spaces being sacrificed on the alters of developers. Whilst sadly, other cherished green spaces have already gone under concrete all over our borough including Farnham and vast swathes of the land in the eastern villages around Cranleigh, Haslemere is calling for everyone’s help.
The Waverley Web has received the following information: But will ‘Your Waverley’ listen? Here’s what Waverley’s Deputy Leader thinks.
A Message from Kirsten Ellis – Independent Cllr for Haslemere.
Kirsten believes it is possible to combine pragmatic, necessary development and housing expansion with planning that does not sacrifice AONB in the town centre.
Dear Friends of our Green Spaces,
We only have 7 days to complete our responses to Waverley BC’s Local Plan Part 2. Some of us will already have got to it; others not. There’s still time…!
We in Haslemere who care as a community about protecting green spaces and biodiversity appeal for your support of Haslemere Town Council’s recommendations to Waverley Borough Council, especially in relation to our settlement boundary and in asking for the removal of the site allocation DS06 (Red Court) from LPP2.
Please submit your views to the LPP2 public consultation before the deadline of 29 January. Lack of response to this crucial LPP2 consultation at Reg 19 stage will be taken as consent and approval by WBC.
The overwhelming majority of Haslemere residents, as reflected in our Neighbourhood Plan and supported by last night’s vote at the Haslemere Town Council, object that WBC seeks to impose on us the site allocation of Red Court, a biodiverse-rich Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which is also a wildlife corridor and home to precious wildlife and endangered species.
A little background: Robert Hunter, the co-founder of the National Trust, was first Chairman of our parish council of Haslemere. This is the town he chose for his lifelong home, and from here, led his fight to protect open green spaces from development, beavering over policy to turn his dream of preserving nature for humanity into hard legal reality. When, in non-Covid times, we sit on our now town council, we are between the same walls where he made many passionate arguments about the vital importance of protecting from development common land (later classed as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Area of Greater Landscape Beauty) for future generations. Last year, with our new influx of Green, Lib-Dem and Independent Cllrs, we declared a biodiversity emergency as well as a climate change emergency.
The settlement boundary that HTC has approved (as opposed to the boundary which WBC seeks to impose) respects the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Haslemere residents who voted to protect and conserve the countryside encircling us in a ring of green and within the town centre. Only 8% were supportive of development in the category of the Red Court site, and 89% were against. 65% voted against allowing even small- scale developments building outside the settlement boundary. In the last elections, due to public anger over the perception by the community that their views on wishing to protect their environment were not being taken into proper consideration by the then-Tory majority, half the HTC Conservative Cllrs lost their seats, to be replaced by Lib Dems, Independents and Greens.
As well as HTC and Haslemere Vision, Haslemere Society, Natural England, Surrey Hills AONB, CRPE, Surrey Wildlife Trusts and Black Down and Hindhead Supporters of the National Trust, there were over 530 objections to Red Court from all over Haslemere and beyond when its planning application (WA 2020/1213) was submitted to WBC late last year (outcome pending).
Please find attached the statement made to WBC last October about this site’s regional importance by Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of Reading, Senior fellow on Defra Systems Research programme and member of European Environment Agency Scientific Committee.
Professor Oliver’s expert view is that WBC’s allocation of Red Court in its draft LPP2 is “not commensurate with the recent national pledge to safeguard biodiversity and WBC’s own policy declaration on the Climate Emergency which commits the Council to regard climate change as a serious threat that requires urgent action to reduce carbon emissions and conserve biodiversity.” His assessment concluded: “In summary, there will be a substantial net biodiversity loss from this development on AONB and AONB-candidate AGLV land, which conflicts with both local and national policy targets.” When I asked Professor Oliver about why he felt it was important to speak out for protecting Red Court after he had studied all its characteristics and context, he said that he saw this site as an important AONB case study and that “the more precedent there is for developing on high biodiversity value AONB land, the easier it becomes for other cases.”
Natural England has said developing on this site will have an adverse effect on the Wealden Heath and significant impact on the setting of the Surrey Hills. By its own assessment, Redwood has stated they intend to fell at least a further 40% of the mature trees on this land to develop the estate.
WBC have a legislative duty of care to conserve biodiversity and ecology on their watch, and LPP2 is a generational blueprint affecting future development in Waverley for a decade that coincides with a major shift in awareness about how crucial it is to stabilise our climate and protect against biodiversity loss and stabilise our climate.
WBC’s planners have said that having listened to Haslemere, they have committed to saving 95% of its AONB, AGLV and Greenbelt. But the AONB and AGLV sites they have removed from the proposed LPP2 in order to justify Red Court’s inclusion do not have the same high-biodiversity as Red Court and are listed (DS 11& 13 in LPP2 2018) as “without a significant landscape impact”. They have made it clear they want the Red Court allocation to be retained and say that they are not able to make up the required housing numbers without it, an assertion which is being challenged by HTC and Haslemere Vision. Research shows that our housing numbers can be met without needing to build on greenfield outside our Council-approved settlement boundary, and this is reflected in our Neighbourhood Plan.
If WBC gives a green light to this allocation, it will reward and enable a property speculator who knowingly purchased AONB/AGLV designated for protection — a rich ecological and biodiverse habitat — with the intention of destroying it for profit. WBC would not only be acting against national policy guidelines and their own Corporate Strategy but also acting against Haslemere’s Neighbourhood Plan, ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of the Haslemere community and its Council, a blow for Localism. Haslemere is currently the only town whose Neighbourhood Plan is not reflected in alignment with the proposed LPP2! It is important to note that LPP2 has achieved alignment with all other Waverley localities, a significant achievement. Come on Waverley, you are almost there, go the extra mile!
Haslemere’s Mayor John Robini, Surrey County Councillor Nikki Barton and the majority of HTC Councillors voted to reflect the views and aspirations of our community in a vote last night supporting the following response to WBC:
Our Neighbourhood Plan understands that Haslemere’s collective wealth lies in protecting its natural environment and biodiversity; much of the area is among some of the earliest National Trust land acquisitions and we are the gateway to the South Downs National Park. We value our treasured ‘Dark Sky’ status which would be eroded if we do not develop wisely. We also prize our town’s connections to the National Trust, and as the chosen home for writers and artists who sought inspiration in its natural beauty: Tennyson, George Eliot (who wrote Middlemarch here), Arthur Conan Doyle (who used Hindhead heath as his inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles) and the artist John Tyndall, and additionally we are proud of history for community-building dating back to the time of the Arts and Crafts movement. We are willing to accept higher density in our town centre and want to give preference to the allocation of brownfield sites first.
Personally, as someone who lives in close proximity to the Red Court site, I — like many who live in the heart of Haslemere — appreciate the beauty and richness of its nature, birdlife and biodiversity, which Tennyson walked past on his daily walks. But for anyone concerned about the preservation of AONB at a national as well as a local level, it’s not difficult to see the allocation of this site as a proverbial canary in the coal mine.
If you care about protecting the Surrey countryside for future generations, please state that DS06 (Red Court) is not a suitable site allocation. People, not just locally, but nationally, will look at how WBC behave in relation to the duty of care of such high biodiversity land.
Kirsten Ellis (PhD)
Independent Councillor, Haslemere South
Please find these additional links to Haslemere community and residents’ association websites for further information:
WBC has a legislative duty of care to conserve biodiversity and ecology on their watch, and LPP2 is a generational blueprint affecting future development in Waverley for a decade that coincides with a major shift in awareness about how crucial it is to stabilise our climate and protect against biodiversity loss.