On Wednesday 13 October 2021, at 6.45 pm, Waverley Planners gave The Wey and Arun Canal Trust the go-ahead to build a new bridge and extension over ‘Canal Rushett’Run Common near Bramley.
Fast forward to …
Wednesday, 9 March 2022, at 9.45 pm, Waverley Planners reversed the decision after a three-hour debate. Councillors voted against by four votes to seven with three abstentions.
Some members of the eastern planning committee described the scheme as less of a canal extension and more of a boating lake and towpath that would be dangerous for cyclists and users of the Downs Link.
One councillor said, “My grandad fell off his bike into the Kennet and Avon Canal.”
Some claimed it wasn’t the restoration of the canal route but a deviation from it, and it would never link up. One public objector – the owners of Whipley Farm at Palmers Cross, said they would never grant permission for the canal to cross their land.
However, never is a long time – and the Canal Trust has already restored sections where owners had long-resisted.
Many believe the controversial decision effectively rules out ever opening the Horsham to Guildford Railway line, a victim of Lord Beaching’s axe in 1965.
So four months later, almost the same planning committee determined the same application again! Why must we all wonder? Had someone threatened a legal challenge? Oh! Yes, they did; we hear you cry.
Could it possibly be Friends of The Earth campaigner Kathy Smyth who is passionate about environmental issues whose legal eagles threatened action against ‘Your Waverley’ before issuing planning consent? Is it possible that just for once, Waverley’s slow planning process paid dividends for objectors, scuppered the Trust’s ambitions and saved taxpayers a pretty penny or two?
As a public speaker, she pointed out many reasons why the application should be refused. We would have included a clip here if the webcast had been operating correctly!!!
In recent years, Wey and Arun’s efforts to forge ahead with plans to open the canal from Sussex across the border into Surrey have moved on apace. The latest planning application to Waverley & Guildford Planners was to create a further 1,000-yard extension to the canal between Bramley and neighbouring Shalford. The masterminds behind the scheme believe the Wey & Arun Canal is an integral part of its plan to cut carbon emissions and restore the “Lost Route to the Sea.”
Some councillors feared that widening the Downs Link would damage the environment by removing trees and wildlife habitat. The Trust refutes this and boasts a well-proven track record for improving the environment rather than damaging it. Some are concerned an extension could scupper reopening the railway line as a “Sustainable Movement Corridor.”
However, it was difficult to understand precisely what Bramley residents want, or more to the point, what they don’t want? It appears they want the Downs Link – where many of them dump their garden rubbish, left as a narrow footpath. But are dead against a railway or any alternative form of public transport system.
Cllr Steve Williams claimed present energy circumstances would prompt a shift in transport solutions over the next five years, and objected to the removal of trees.
He was reminded that introducing a transport link, sometime down the line, would require the removal of many hundreds of mature trees.
Confusing information provided by council officers about 90 class A Oak trees that would be removed, sparked controversy when Cllr Liz Townsend described many of these as “self-seeded spindly saplings,” being replaced by 1,000 other trees. She argued transport studies had been bandied around for years, and costs estimated at £100m in the ’90s.
Car parks would be needed and you cannot put a light railway onto a main railway line, and land would need to be compulsorily purchased. The Downs Link, in its present form as a recreational route is not feasible next to a railway line. What we are trying to achieve is a sustainable movement corridor. there is no plannng reason to refuse this application.”
Cranleigh Cllr Patricia Ellis agreed. The W&AC Trust had a proven record for providing leisure and recreational facilities for Waverley residents and prided itself on protecting the environment. It would be wrong to stop the canal scheme for something that may never come about.
“Probably not least of which, Cranleigh would become more gridlocked with traffic than it is at the moment. It would become one large car park.”
Surrey County Council made it abundantly clear in a statement to the committee that it would not support re-opening the Horsham to Guildford railway line or safeguarding it for a future transport link. There was no capacity at Guildford Station.
The reopening of the railway line is not supported by SCC – The line was closed in 1965 due to low profitability – Consideration has been given by the County Council and the rail industry as to whether the Cranleigh to Guildford line could viably be reinstated. This would be feasible from an engineering perspective but would have environmental impacts. – Studies in the 1990s concluded that most trips in the area were not between Guildford and Cranleigh and only 3% of capital costs would be recouped in the first year. – The 2013 Surrey Rail Strategy notes that reinstatement of the Guildford/Cranleigh line. “was rejected because of the lack of a viable business case. Previous detailed feasibility studies into the scheme carried out for Surrey County Council concluded that patronage would be insufficient to justify the significant cost of rail line re-opening. There is no evidence to suggest that the fundamental drivers of demand have changed substantially since these studies were carried out in the 1990s. The County Council, therefore, decided to undertake no further work on this proposal.”
The 2020 Surrey Rail Strategy also does not support the reinstatement of the line. – The rail line may not cover operating costs or significant capital costs. There is no capacity at Guildford Station to reintroduce the line. – Surrey strongly support the former railway line being used as a transport link for walkers, horse riders and cyclists.