EXCLUSIVE by Rob Searle
THE prospect of a garden village development at Fairoaks Airport must have been discussed by Surrey Heath Borough Council several months ago, it transpired this week.
The possibility of at least 1,500 homes being built on the land became public at the end of November, but the council appears to have been aware of it for some time.
The News & Mail reported last week how alarm had spread in surrounding communities after Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove asked Chobham Parish Council for its views on a potential proposal to develop the Fairoaks site into a garden village.
There had been rumours locally of a big development planned for the airfield, but Mr Gove brought the garden village bid into the open.
In answer to questions put by the News & Mail this week, Surrey Heath responded: “The bid was made by the council and supported by the airport owners.
“Garden village bids can only be made by local authorities as the scheme is not open to private developers. This is because a key objective for the Government is to deliver value from the sites to the benefit of both the local and new communities.”
The Government first proposed the concept of garden villages, towns and cities in March, to boost house building. Expressions of interest had to be with the Homes & Communities Agency by 31 July, so Surrey Heath would have had to have met this deadline.
The council told the News & Mail it began discussions with the Fairoaks owners when it became clear that the airport was not financially viable in the long term.
A statement from Surrey Heath said: “If the site is to be developed for housing, the council believes it would only be acceptable if this was through a garden village concept, with the vision and principles developed in conjunction with the local community, not merely by consulting with them but by working with them to establish what they want from the site.
“We would expect the bid to provide or contribute to all necessary infrastructure and deliver a self-contained community, including schools, local facilities, highways etc, as well as a business provision with retention of existing firms who want to stay.”
The statement added that the council hopes its bid will bring the funding and support needed for it to work with the community, local stakeholders and the owners. A consultation would be planned to start early next year.
Fairoaks Garden Village Ltd, an organisation set up by airport owners Albemarle Fairoaks Airport Ltd and TEREF ADP Fairoaks Ltd, confirmed that discussions had taken place with Surrey Heath ‘when it became clear that the airport’s current arrangements were not financially sustainable’.
A spokesman for Fairoaks said: “The owners agreed with Surrey Heath Borough Council that the site should be put forward as a possible garden village, helping to address the need for new homes and business space locally, while providing towards its own supporting infrastructure.
“The proposals are still at a very early stage and we hope that everyone will take part in the public consultation programme we are planning for the spring, which will help us to understand local aspirations and shape a masterplan for the site.”
The News & Mail tried a number of times to contact Mr Gove to ask how he came to know of the garden village proposal but he had not responded by our deadline.