On Day 3, Inspector Harold Stevens heard from Mary Brown, a resident of Alfold.
After many hours of evidence over three days of the six-day Inquiry, Mrs Brown was allowed five minutes! Yes, folks. Just five very precious minutes.
So much for “localism!” However, the Inspector allowed her a little longer and told her not to rush.
Although there was no attempt by the developer’s barrister to cross-examine her evidence – the Thakeham Bully Boys came out in force later when they insulted and repeatedly questioned the competence of Waverley’s planning Officer Kate Edwards. At one point, he even queried her professional abilities during a distinctly shabby tirade. Despite the hostile questioning Miss Edwards kept calm and carried on.
Perhaps they thought to make a fight with Mrs Brown, a stalwart of the village, might alienate the Inspector? So they turned their guns on Miss Edwards instead.
Mrs Brown drew the Inquiry’s attention to recent Government announcements and planning legislation – including the Environment Bill, which promotes building on brownfield sites and not in the countryside.
** Secretary of State for Housing Michael Gove has proposed that residents be the overseers of development – and that they be “the final arbiters of development in their area.”
Mrs Brown said Alfold had already exceeded its housing quota of 125 homes with 395 consented and two appeals in process. Alfold was a small village with little or no infrastructure – no schools, GP surgery, poor bus service, no railway stations, and almost everyone relied on their cars.
She said there had been many reforms to the planning system since the development for 99 homes on the appeal site in Loxwood Rd had been refused by Waverley Planners. The Government had a change in its approach where homes should be built in future, in part due to the Pandemic.
The whole issue of the environment has become more critical since the Pandemic. The UK Government has issued guidance on mental and physical wellbeing and the importance of the environment in which we live. Isolating families in villages without facilities is a recipe for disaster that leads to theft, drugs, and anti-social behaviour.
The Environment Bill spanning the next 25 years promoted the protection of the natural environment, evidenced by Cop 26, and homes should be built where they can benefit communities, not damage them.
“The Bill in the Queens Speach asks us to be greener to keep us safer.”
A lifetime working in public health had shown her that protecting the natural environment was now more important than ever before.
She said further development in the countryside in Alfold should be refused and homes built on brownfield sites. But this had not happened in Alfold. A huge rush of appeal decisions had brought with them a doubling of the size of the village, bringing with them increased traffic but no improvements in infrastructure. Villagers travelled, mainly by car, on congested busy roads to schools for health care, shopping and almost all their needs. The Loxwood Road was fast and busy, and the noise and fumes increased as other areas like Billingshurst were growing fast. She argued housing development should now be going into empty offices and redundant stores in major towns served by quality transport and health-care services.
Affordable housing is being “dumped into a corner of this vast Springbok Estate. Some families being allocated to these homes will need support, access to public transport, (very few buses in a day) GP surgeries, hospitals and health Hubs Alfold Village does not have these facilitates. “
“As for affordable homes. Those built elsewhere in Alfold recently at Sweeters Copse had not been popular. Homes did not sell and rents turned out to be double those of the older affordable housing built elsewhere in the village.”
She told the Inspector there were planning consents for over one million homes consented across the country had not been built.
I am at the end of my life, but I feel for the younger generation – they need space – and not buildings all over our green and pleasant land. Here in Alfold we wonder if this scheme for 99 homes is just the start of a Thakeham’s ambitions to move further across the Springbok land in due course.”
**Mr Gove has paused the former unpopular planning reforms proposed by the previous Secretary of State, Robert “Bob The Builder” Jenrick. He said he wants to review and engage constructively with his colleagues – one of whom happens to be his PPS, the MP for Guildford and Cranleigh Angela Richardson.
The Inquiry continues. The developer’s description of Alfold today was diametrically opposed to those held by villagers, including Mrs Brown and Waverley Borough Council.
A developer’s spokesperson described it as – A village where everyone can cycle safely to Rudgwick and Cranleigh, Is close to the railway stations in Billingshurst, Witley and Milford. A village with good bus links, shops, pubs, and other amenities and residents in easy reach and can walk safely to shops.