WOKING MP Jonathan Lord last night backed campaigners battling to halt a planning application for a gipsy site on green-belt land in Byfleet.
More than 700 angry Byfleeters turned up to a heated residents’ meeting at Byfleet Village Hall to discuss the controversial Murrays Lane proposal.
It was standing room only inside the hall as 250 people crammed in while hundreds listened to the debate via loud speakers set up in the car park.
Mr Lord made an unexpected appearance from Parliament before heading back to London.
Seven councillors, including Anne Roberts and Ashley Bowes, added their weight at the meeting organised by John Bond and Clifford Bolton from the Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford Residents’ Association.
The plans submitted by Tom Valler – but subsequently resubmitted by a Mrs G Valler – are to change land from agricultural-only use into four pitches to accommodate ‘an extended Romani family’ on the site in West Byfleet, south of Murrays Lane.
So far more than 500 complaints about the proposal have been left on Woking Borough Council’s website.
A number of emotive comments were made at the meeting regarding gipsies, to which Mr Lord said: “We must not stigmatise one community in a racist way. The present government brought into force the tightening of rules for gipsies and travellers.
“We have made it clear that there has to be very, very special circumstances if these plans are to go ahead.
“It is very unfortunate that this issue has come forward without councillors being properly forewarned. In my view Woking Borough Council should have given the councillors notice of the application.
“It is a quasi judicial system and those on the planning committee are not allowed to prejudge an application and have to be very careful about what they say.”
Mr Lord, however, who is permitted to have his say, added: “I spoke to Eric Pickles’ senior adviser for guidance and can say that in my view this is completely inappropriate use of green-belt land.
“We do need to safeguard green space around our villages.”
Woking Borough Council’s chairman of planning, Cllr Bowes, said: “I am very aware that this application has attracted a lot of public attention. We validated it and everything is in order as far as the process is concerned and we have gone out to public consultation.
“Because of the enormity of the response, we have extended the consultation time until February 25. All comments will be taken into account.”
Planning councillor Graham Chrystie said: “We do consider the views of the people of Byfleet but we are not able to make any decisions until we have the planning meeting.”
The meeting will be after the consultation period. It was originally targeted for the end of March but because of the volume of responses, Cllr Bowes said it was likely to be later.
Monday’s meeting was very well organised, with a dozen marshalls and tickets to adhere to health and safety.
Tickets were also being dished out for a second meeting planned for next Monday (February 18) to cater for those unable to get into the hall last night.
Full report and pictures in Thursday’s News & Mail