COUNCIL planners pushed through a recommendation to build on green belt land this week, much to the dismay of Mayford residents.
On Tuesday night, nine Planning Committee members voted in favour of a permanent home for the Hoe Valley Free School in Egley Road, which is to be built alongside a new leisure centre complete with eight-lane running track.
The recommendation will now pass to the Secretary of State who will decide whether the proposal should be approved.
Although many supporters initially registered their backing for the school itself – which received Department for Education approval in 2014 – Mayford residents chiefly objected to the scale of the project, and gathered in force outside the Civic Offices to protest before the meeting.
The plan is for the three-storey secondary school to open in September 2017, financed by the Education Funding Agency, with the priority for pupils to use the sports amenities during the school day.
The EFA is expected to contribute £1.5 million to the council, which owns the 22-acre plot. The leisure centre is estimated at a cost of £10m to £15m, and includes two full-sized football pitches, three all-weather five-a-side 3G playing surfaces, a five-court sports hall, gym and fitness suite, alongside the all-weather track, which is earmarked to replace the existing facility in Sheerwater as part of its regeneration (discussed on Thursday). Plans also include parking and access.
Committee members cited the growing demand for school places as the primary ‘special circumstance’ that would justify building on green belt.
A spokesman for the Planning Committee told the News & Mail: “This is the most difficult decision we have had to make about planning. It is important to treat the green belt as valuable jewels, but it is with regret that it is now necessary, with school places scarce, for those jewels to be used for the good of the borough.
“We are satisfied the special circumstances of the project outweigh the negatives of having to lose green belt land for the benefit of future generations.”
Cllr Azad expressed disappointment at the verdict: “The school and leisure facilities would seriously undermine the principles of the openness of the green belt. I feel the application would set a damaging precedent for the area and result in serious congestion on nearby roads.”
Because the extensive proposal was lodged under a single bid, the committee could only reject or approve the recommendation in its entirety.
Mayford resident and public representative at Tuesday’s meeting, Jackie Curry (above), said that the plans should have been submitted as two separate applications.
She told the News & Mail: “This was not just about a school. It was about a ‘major sporting facility’ (as described by Sport England) hidden within a school application, which is about to destroy the Mayford villagers’ right to peace and quiet. Hoe Valley School was cited as the applicant, but the land is owned by the council – which is also in charge of Sheerwater Athletics Track – and so it was, to all intents and purposes, a joint applicant.”
Mrs Curry believes the council were trying to rush the bid through: “At the Executive Meeting last Thursday, Chief Executive Ray Morgan advised the plans should ‘not be called in’, that he doesn’t want the development held up.
“So, as part applicant and owner of the site, the council oversees the planning department, and then is in charge of the decision. In other words, plaintiff, judge, jury and executioner. The Planning Portal registered a considerable majority of objections.
“The result seems to show what the villagers have long suspected, that this was already a ‘done deal’.”
Hoe Valley School opened last month in temporary premises at the former coach park outside Woking Leisure Centre in time for the new academic term.