A Guildford sports ground can be redeveloped in the Surrey Hills after Government inspectors overturned a council’s refusal of the plans. A new hockey pitch, running track and football pitch can all now be built on the Urn Field site, for use by both Guildford County School and Tormead School as well as the wider community.
Plans for the site were refused by Guildford Borough Council in December 2021 because of concerns over its location in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the green belt, but an inspector now says these are outweighed by the benefits to the schools and the community. Officers had recommended approving permission of plans last year, and the planning committee heard from the headteachers who said better facilities were needed for both schools.
The original application, which also include the relocation of cricket nets, extension to sports pavilion balcony and new javelin, discus, shot put and long jump area as well as increased car parking, received 206 letters of objection and 374 letters in support on the borough council’s site. The inspector said the plans should be allowed despite the planned floodlights which could be “harmful to the natural qualities and scenic beauty of the Merrow Downs area of the AONB”.
The appeal decision states that the floodlights at the site, at the end of Downside Road and Little Warren Close, would only be used between 7.30am-8pm, Monday to Saturday and for five months of the year, during the winter. Calling the visibility of the retractable floodlights “highly time limited”, the inspector said the duration of the “harmful effects” on the AONB and the dark skies would be minimal.
The inspector said: “I have taken into account the important benefits to the schools’ pupils and the wider community, as well as the limited harm to the AONB, and the weight that must be attached to each. In this case therefore I find that these considerations indicate that the benefits of the development outweigh the harm, and therefore that the appeal should be allowed.”
The benefits listed by the inspector include the physical and mental health benefits of playing sport, including improving behaviour, building characteristics such as resilience and values including fair play, tackling loneliness, improving self esteem. An application for costs against Guildford Borough Council in the appeal was dismissed.