4 things everyone should know about Three Farms Meadow
1. What is Three Farms Meadow?
Ans. It is agricultural land – much of which was commandeered during WW2 in order to create a grass airstrip which was later used by Vickers to fly out planes built at its Brookland factories.
See Wikipedia for the history of this former wartime grass airstrip:
‘Wisley Airfield is a former wartime airfield located in the Parish of Ockham near Wisley in Surrey. Originally a grass airstrip, the runway was converted to tarmac in 1952 and used to test aircraft built at Weybridge by Vickers. All flying ceased in 1973 because the runway was too short for large aircraft and was too close to Heathrow. All the structures on the site were removed at the time the land was sold back to its principal former owner in 1980 for agricultural use. The site now mainly comprises arable fields,grassland and woods. Although there are no structures on the site the tarmac runway and apron remains because the government reneged on its wartime promise to restore the land.’
2. Isn’t the Former Wisley Airfield the ‘largest previously developed site in Surrey’?
Ans. That’s what its owners claim. The owners, Wisley Property Investments (WPI) set out the categorisation of the land on their website:
‘The site’s existing land uses are as follows:
Concrete 74 acres 25.7%
Intensive arable 157 acres 54.5%
Farmed pasture 12 acres 4.2%
Woodland/grassland 45 15.6%’
So you can see that almost 75% of the land is agricultural. You might imagine that the 74 acres described as ‘concrete’ had some sort of structures on it. But in fact there are no structures at all anywhere on the site. Most of the ‘concrete’ is the former runway. By definition a runway has no structures on it. The rest of the concrete is the apron and standing for the former hangars. All the hangars were removed prior to the sale of the land back to the former freeholder – the Ockham Park Estate/Lord Lytton as agricultural land.
You might also imagine that a runway might be useful in some way, that it might be possible to ‘re-use’ it in some way. In fact the most likely destiny of the runway is that it will be pulled up and used as hardcore. The reasons are that a) you cannot build directly on the runway – because buildings need new foundations and b) most of the runway falls inside a Special Protection Area exclusion zone.
3. Is it an appropriate site for a new town?
Ans. No for very many reasons, but because, in brief:
i) it is land put into the Metropolitan Green Belt in the public interest. The law says the Green Belt should be permanent and that its boundaries should not be altered except in exceptional circumstances.
ii) the entire site also lies within 800 metres of the Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area (TBHSPA)*. In fact, 40% of the site sits within the 400 metre “exclusion zone”, where the building of housing is strictly prohibited. This SPA is protected by EU and UK legislation. Its purpose is to protect endangered species and their habitats. This heathland is one of the last vestiges of heath which used to cover much of Surrey but nearly all of which has been lost to development. If the habitat is lost then several endangered species of bird may be lost to the English countryside and may even become extinct.
iii) GBC published a ‘Settlement Hierarchy’ in May 2014. It is available on its website: http://www.guildford.gov.uk/settlementhierarchy
This site falls entirely within the parish of Ockham. GBC gives Ockham a sustainability score of 4. That makes it the second least sustainable site in GBC.
iv) GBC has published an assessment of the site which it commissioned from Pegasus Consultants. It is disclosed as part of the Green Belt and Countryside Study – and is in Appendix V at section 22. It can be found on its website: http://www.guildford.gov.uk/gbcs
Pegasus states that the part of 3FM owned by WPI is too small to make a sustainable development because although WPI owns 117 ha only 60ha is available for development. In other words at least 50ha must be excluded as part of the SPA and at least 17ha must be excluded as set aside for a waste processing planning permission.
v) GBC has published The Options Growth Scenarios Transport Assessment Report (Surrey County Council, January 2014. This was undertaken by Surrey County Council, the statutory Local Transport Authority and Local Highway Authority, and was based on planning data provided by Guildford Borough Council in October 2013. It is available at http://www.guildford.gov.uk/transport
This shows that the road traffic network near Junction 10 between the M25 and the A3 is already fragile and at or near breaking point. It is not plausible that a new town can be created at this point in the network – injecting another 5000 cars into the system – without risking creating traffic chaos at this critical part of the network between London, Heathrow and Gatwick – and thereby jeopardising Guildford’s present infrastructure advantages.
4. Can’t WPI overcome these objections?
Ans. WPI make light of all the objections. Individually any one of the obstacles is likely to be a show stopper. But collectively they make the odds of developing this site extremely long. Just take a few of the problems. Green Belt. Exceptional circumstances are a matter of national law. They are not something that GBC is at liberty to interpret at its own whim. Take the Special Protection Area. This is a matter of EU law. Serious commentators like the NSPCC state that it is highly unlikely that using half the site as a ‘park’ for the residents of a new town would satisfy the requirements of the law to safeguard the endangered wildlife. Take sustainability. Serious commentators like the Council for the Protection of Rural England point out that no account is taken of the fact that the land is actively farmed and that the effects on the Ockham conservation area and the rest of Ockham have not been properly evaluated.