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Opinion: Four Reasons to Save the Hog’s Back

Image showing the Save Hogs Back campaign view of the proposed expansion into Blackwell Farm.

By Karen Stevens

“Save the Hogs Back” campaigner

The proposed Blackwell Farm development will change the shape and character of the western side of Guildford forever, transforming it from a beautiful, historic rural landscape to a suburban housing estate and low-density business park, which will be visible along the Hog’s Back.

This site, surrounding one of the former manors of Compton (and later the residence of Lord Dennis), is currently high-grade arable farmland.

It is criss-crossed with ancient hedgerows and bounded by ancient woodland to its east, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the south, a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (Broadstreet Common) to the north and open countryside to the west.

Blackwell Farm was supposed to be opened up by the University of Surrey to provide greater public access to the countryside at the 2003 Local Plan when the “permanent” green belt boundary shifted and part of the former Royal Park was swallowed up to allow expansion of the University of Surrey.

Instead of doing this, the university now has plans to spread Guildford 4km to the west and to build a 3,250-home estate along the Hog’s Back.

Guildford Borough Council has put forward the site for 1,800 homes in its latest draft Local Plan and has taken the unprecedented step of planning to move the permanent green belt boundary twice in less than 15 years. These plans will be to the detriment of Guildford and should be resisted for the following reasons:

1. More roads, but even more traffic:

– The site is dependent on a new access road from the A31 (Hog’s Back) to the Royal Surrey County Hospital roundabout at Egerton Road, with a new signalised junction on the A31 at Down Place (just east of the A3 slip road).

– The proposed new road carving through the AONB would be inadequate for the volume of traffic using it, and once the development has been built out it wouldn’t be long before new roads were required to serve the new population, which would inevitably pass through Wood Street Village (adding to the congestion in Worplesdon and potentially ruining Wood Street Village Green) and/or through Flexford/Wanborough, potentially ruining the conservation area of Wanborough, with its 13th century church and 14th century barns.

– An independent traffic study commissioned by Compton Parish Council has shown that this new junction would result in more queuing on the Hog’s Back and on the A3 during the morning peak-hour, and as a result the villages of Puttenham, Compton and Artington would see a surge in traffic numbers as Guildford-bound drivers seek out the fastest route and divert along the B3000 and B3100.

– There would also be more congestion at the Egerton Road (Tesco) roundabout, which would impede access to the Hospital’s A&E unit and cause increased rat running through Onslow Village and Park Barn. This problem was identified by the planning inspector who presided over the previous Local Plan and who put a cap on traffic increases in the area of 5%. That cap has been exceeded (despite the university’s claim that construction traffic and buses don’t count). Guildford’s underlying traffic modelling is flawed and simply tweaking the hospital roundabout and/or providing a new rail halt at Park Barn will not mitigate against the traffic generated by 1,800 homes, two schools, and an extended business park.

2. More pollution  Levels of nitrogen oxides that are consistently well above the EU legal limit have been recorded at the A3 end of the B3000 over the past two years (source: GBC Air Quality Annual Status Report, September 2016). Any traffic intervention that increases traffic levels through Compton (such as the proposed access road to Blackwell Farm), will make this situation worse and potentially have an impact on the health of residents.

3. Loss of nationally important countryside  The new access road would cut through the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), uprooting centuries old trees and scarring the north face of the Hog’s Back. It would also pass through an Area of Great Landscape Value and through, or next to, a belt of ancient woodland. The housing development itself and the proposed extension to the Research Park, would harm the setting to the Surrey Hills AONB (the views into and out of the Hog’s Back ridge).

4. More flooding  The Hog’s Back acts as a soak-away for surface rainwater. Once its slopes are concreted over, this water will flow north, adding to existing flooding in Wood Street Village, Fairlands and Whitmore Common (an EU protected habitat).

The provision of low-density executive homes across green fields is an inefficient and highly destructive way to meet housing needs. With more than 10% of Guildford’s population comprising students, I believe that the university should do much more to provide dedicated, purpose-built and safe accommodation for those wanting to study and enjoy living in Guildford. This would free up much needed space for key workers and families in existing homes closer to the town centre, helping to regenerate these areas and avoiding problems with student homes identified by GBC.

Whilst the University of Surrey seeks to improve its standing in the rankings of universities in the UK (it currently stands around 270 worldwide) so it would do well to emulate those at the top of the world league tables, which provide dedicated residences to over 95% of their students. The University of Surrey provides around half of this.

The Local Plan is an opportunity to create a better, not a worse, Guildford, and it is up to everyone to respond to the consultation to share their views. Because, if not, in ten years time you, your children or grandchildren will be sitting in a traffic jam, questioning how we allowed all this to happen.

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6 Responses to Opinion: Four Reasons to Save the Hog’s Back

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    June 30, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Exactly the same reasons why Wisley and Gosden Hill should not fall either.

  2. Lisa wright Reply

    July 1, 2017 at 11:52 am

    The whole Blackwell Farm proposal is ridiculous. Aside from the protection Karen already mentions, can you imagine trying to get anywhere near Tesco or the Hospital during rush hour? I sure hope I don’t ever need an ambulance.

  3. Stuart Barnes Reply

    July 3, 2017 at 8:46 am

    The whole idea of the development is appalling. Is there nothing sacred anymore?

    The reason for all the building is virtually unrestricted immigration. Even after we escape from the corrupt, failed and hated EU there will still be problems with the rate of immigration. Until we deal with that there will be no let up on the concreting over of our green and pleasant land.

    • John Perkins Reply

      July 8, 2017 at 8:50 am

      Immigrants are not the reason for building; it is simply about money.

      Developers and landowners are being given the opportunity to make huge profits and councils are being offered taxpayers money to allow them to do so.

      Immigrants were allowed in so that they might be exploited as cheap labour and now their numbers are being used to justify development.

      • Stuart Barnes Reply

        July 10, 2017 at 8:48 am

        The continual concreting over would not be happening without the flooding of our country with legal and illegal immigrants. Yes, the unscrupulous builders take advantage of that fact but they only have that possibility because of our almost undefended borders.

        I agree that there is a “chicken and egg” situation but the origins of all this come from Blair’s decision to open up our borders to the world, apparently “to rub the right’s nose in diversity” – I hope I got the quote from one of his “thinkers” correctly.

  4. NJ Brockway Reply

    July 7, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    The proposal to build on Blackwell Farm, Hog’s Back, and other parts of green belt land is outrageous. The green belt was designed to protect the countryside from exactly this kind of opportunistic development and urban sprawl, yet councils up and down the country are being offered “bribes” worth hundreds of millions of pounds to build homes on the green belt.

    There are enough brown-field sites in the country to build millions of homes but instead we see this money grabbing, land grabbing feeding frenzy by council mandarins and their property developer friends. Few, if any, of these houses will be social housing yet they will no doubt be described as “affordable” homes.

    A handful of already fabulously wealthy people will be making hundreds of millions from this plan, along with the bribe of £68m to GBC (of taxpayer’s money) from our incompetent and discredited central government, who, in their manifesto, pledged to “maintain the existing strong protections on designated land like the green belt”. The result of this development will be a permanently destroyed countryside, massively over-stretched NHS, transport, and education services, with thousands of families and young people still on the council house waiting list.

    This whole thing stinks and needs to be properly investigated.

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