An Inspector has supported an appeal that claimed the need to increase housing in east Sussex outweighed the harm to the High Weald AONB. What is worrying about this case is that the Inspector cited "the fact that 60% of the district fell within the AONB" as an "exceptional circumstance" which would enable development within an AONB. What is the point in designating any district as an AONB (thereby affording it the "highest level of protection") if this very designation then becomes an "exceptional circumstance" to allow for development? Save Hogs Back has written to Anne Milton MP asking her to explain how a ruling by an Inspector that would appear to apply to any protected area could be considered as being exceptional and in particular what this means for the Hogs Back which lies within the AONB.
To: Brandon Lewis and Guildford Borough Council
Save Hog's Back and the Surrey Hills AONB
Guildford Borough Council (GBC) is proposing to build a 2,250-home development at Blackwell Farm on the northern slopes of the Hog's Back - a steep chalk ridge on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The area is of high landscape and environmental value and lies entirely within the Metropolitan Green Belt. We are calling on GBC to withdraw this site from its draft local plan, and on Brandon Lewis to provide more robust protection for AONBs and their settings within its planning legislation.
Why is this important?
The Hog's Back is a steep chalk ridge that runs between the towns of Guildford and Farnham in Surrey. It is 154m above sea level at its highest point and provides far reaching and dramatic views across open countryside to the north and south.
The ridge is a nationally important and much loved feature of the North Downs, formed during the last Ice Age and one of England's oldest known roads. Four farms (Blackwell, Wildfield, Chalk Pit and Manor) lie at its eastern end and are under threat from development. Guildford Borough Council has earmarked Blackwell Farm for a 2,250-home development and expansion of a business park in its draft Local Plan - a move that would burst through, and enclose, an area of ancient woodland, which forms the green belt boundary on the west side of Guildford. This sprawl would open up the floodgates for a ribbon development along the slopes of Hog’s Back. The University of Surrey, which owns the land, is already pushing to increase the development to 265 hectares (3,250 homes). This is despite promises to open up this area as an informal recreational space - promises made when the University took 64 hectares out of green belt in 2004.
The farmland under threat lies on the boundary to the Surrey Hills AONB and provides views into, and out of, the Hog's Back ridge. Part of site lies within the AONB. It also includes a designated Area of Great Landscape Value, areas of ancient woodland, areas of Grade 2 and 3a farmland, medieval hedgerows, and remnants of 18th century parkland. It is adjacent to a scheduled ancient monument and to a Site of Nature Conservation Importance, and is home to many rare flora and fauna, including 4 bird species of principal importance for biodiversity.
The site is also of historic importance: it includes that last remaining undeveloped corner of Guildford Royal Park - Henry II's hunting ground and an important part of the town's heritage - and it provides the last remaining views of Guildford Cathedral where it rises from an entirely rural setting.
The Hog's Back itself is steeped in history. It was used by worshippers travelling to Stonehenge and much later by pilgrims visiting Thomas a Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. Views from the ridge have been admired by literary figures, such as Daniel Defoe, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll (who is buried on the Hogs Back) and Aldous Huxley.
Save Hogs Back is opposed to the development of these farms and any further urbanisation of the Hog's Back landscape. We call on Guildford Borough Council to withdraw this site from its Local Plan, and on Brandon Lewis to tighten up planning legislation so that there is more robust protection for AONBs and their settings. We also call on the University of Surrey to abandon its plans to cash in on this land and instead to honour its promise to the people of Guildford to open up this area for walkers, riders, cyclists etc, whilst keeping it as a working farm. For further information, please visit www.savehogsback.co.uk