FURIOUS Byfleeters are up in arms about an application to turn green belt land into a permanent gipsy site and more than 300 residents have already strongly objected online.
Their anger is further fuelled by the fact that the planning application, originally dated January 12, was only discovered by chance on Woking Borough Council’s website three days before the closing date for comments.
No one had received any letters and no notices were put up on the land. In such a close-knit community, word quickly spread around the village and residents inundated the council’s planning department with calls and emails of complaints.
At just a few hours’ notice, 70 residents gathered at the site in peaceful protest.
Police officers turned up and it is believed that gipsies called them out.
Andrea Boutell, whose family have lived in Byfleet since 1850, said: “We are very distressed to hear about this planning application. It is a beautiful piece of green belt land and must not be destroyed in this way – it is supposed to be for agricultural use only.”
The plans submitted are to change the land from agricultural-only use into four pitches to accommodate ‘an extended Romani family’ on the site south of Murrays Lane, to include associated works, four day rooms, hardstanding and a septic tank.
Residents said planning officer Michael Parker initially insisted that notice had been sent out, yet no one had received a thing.
Apparently he then backtracked, admitting that the letters had not in fact been sent out due to a ‘glitch’ in the system.
They also said that the three Byfleet councillors – Anne Roberts, Esther Watson Green and Anne Farrant claimed they knew nothing about the plans, even though they are all on the Woking Borough Council planning committee.
Villagers now have until February 21 to comment on the application with borough planning chiefs expected to make a decision on March 29.
It is unclear why these plans have been put forward when a previous application for a scout hut on the land had been thrown out.
West Estates sold the land, it is thought, to Tom Valler, of Aldershot. The current planning applicant is believed to be his wife Mrs G Valler.
Mr Valler, who owns a secondhand vehicle business, owns the land to the left where the planning permission has been applied for.
His sister Charmaine Valler and her husband Nathan own the land to the right where she currently keeps animals.
Herself a gipsy, Ms Valler used to be employed by Surrey Community Action (a Lottery-funded charity) as a gipsy and community development officer.
She has been involved in advising councils, including Woking, about the rights and needs of her community.
Andrea said: “Murrays Lane is a single lane only. There are no footpaths and it is not suitable for caravans or heavy vehicles as it’s frequently used by children playing, dog walkers, cyclists and people enjoying the countryside and all it provides.
“The entrance and exit is on a dangerous corner right next to a school. If the plans were approved there would also be additional pressure on our already over-subscribed schools, amenities, doctors surgeries.”
It is thought the scout hut application was rejected because the site is home to one of the largest active badger setts in Surrey, which is only six metres away from the proposed development.
Their habitat and wellbeing is protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
Andrea added: “Byfleet village is a wonderful community where we all look after and out for each other.
“We will not take this lying down.”
One resident, who did not want to be named, said: “I can only see this development negatively impacting on the quality of life for Byfleet residents by continued over-development and loss of leisure opportunities and damage to the natural environment.”
Another resident, who again did not want their name published, said: “It is preposterous to think that this application can go anywhere other than the nearest bin.
“As already stated very clearly by other residents, we do more than enough as a county to accommodate travelling communities.
“This is a blatant abuse of the laws relating to planning and should not merit any more time and effort in discussing.
“Spend the time dealing with the current issues that affect the local people of Byfleet and the surrounding areas, which is after all what we pay our council taxes for.”
Another concern brought up was that of flooding.
“Due to the detrimental effect it will have on the environment and wildlife, concerns about construction on possible flood plains would make the existing flooding worse in the village.
“This land should be kept for agricultural use or a natural wildlife reserve only.”
Another villager stated: “Byfleet does not want the makings of another Dale Farm on its doorstep. Please throw this ill-conceived plan out – it has no place in our village community.
A Woking Borough Council spokesman said: “The council can confirm that a planning application has been received and will be dealt with through the planning process.”
Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford Residents’ Association publicity officer Cliff Bolton has arranged a meeting at Byfleet Village Hall on Monday (February 11) at 7.30pm for 8pm.
He said: “It is expected to be a well-attended, heated debate between councillors and residents.”
Cllr Farrant confirmed that she, along with Cllr Roberts, Cllr Watson Green and Surrey County Council Chairman Geoff Marlow will be at the meeting.
Cllr Marlow said: “I will be at the meeting. Naturally the application has roused much interest. I would urge people to keep their heads and keep to the law.
“I understand there will be police presence but I hope their services will not be needed.”
Andrea added: “The only reason the police are going to the meeting is because of safety concerns regarding the sheer volume of people expected to turn up.”
There were more than 300 comments on the council website by W3ednesday of this week. Residents have until February 21 to make their comments known about planning application PLAN/2013/0016 online at the council website. Anonymous responses will be discounted.
However, late representations will be accepted by email or letter until a decision is made. The council said the target date for a decision is Friday, March 29.