Following rumours that a BBC film crew were lurking in Cranleigh High Street yesterday afternoon, a short film has appeared this morning on the BBC News website:
Plans to expand Cranleigh, England’s biggest village
The two minute clip is worth watching if you’re a local resident or business owner, or if you live in another village threatened by greenfield development.
By way of background, Cranleigh is (technically) a village, nestled at the foot of the Surrey Hills between Guildford and Horsham.
According to the latest Census, the civil parish of Cranleigh has a population of close to 11,500 people.
We have a bustling High Street, on which Informed Choice is based, along with three supermarkets, five pubs, a variety of restaurants and cafes, many independent retailers and (some would say too many) charity shops.
The village of Cranleigh has changed a great deal since we moved here in the early 1980′s.
Gone is the Regal Cinema, several pubs, one of the petrol stations, Village Video and more recently Blockbuster Video, and (not during my lifetime) the railway station.
So Cranleigh has changed dramatically over the past thirty years.
There have been several new housing developments around the village and currently there are plans, either submitted or about to be submitted, for several more.
It is these proposals, all of which are on green field sites, which are causing such consternation among local residents.
Berkeley Homes have submitted proposals to build up to 425 homes on the green fields south of Stocklund Square (pictured), just off the High Street.
This is a beautiful set of fields, prone to flooding, with access onto tiny country lanes.
Another development at Amlets Park is proposing up to 150 homes, on green fields right at the foot of the Surrey Hills, another site prone to flooding and with access onto country lanes which are in a poor state.
Other developers have put forward plans at exhibitions for as many as 325 more homes at two other sites, behind the High Street and off Horsham Road.
Leaving aside the obvious environmental concerns, the local residents we have spoken to about these proposals have big concerns about the impact on local infrastructure.
Building more homes, whether on green or brown field sites, means more people putting pressure on health care services, schools, water and the roads.
Without a rail link to Guildford and London, people living in Cranleigh are left with little choice but to drive for work.
Driving the 9 miles from Cranleigh to Guildford during rush hour in the morning can often take an hour or longer, because the A281 through villages like Bramley and Shalford cannot take the weight of existing traffic, let along another 1,000 or more commuters.
With thousands of additional residents in Cranleigh, getting an appointment to see a GP or a primary school place would become more of a Herculean task than it currently is.
Imagine what extra demands these new homes would place on an already creaking water and electricity supply in the village; every winter in living memory we have had lengthy power cuts and water supply problems.
This is not to see that we are opposed to change and growth; in fact, we support it.
What is particularly needed is affordable housing for first-time buyers and homes of a size which reflect the reality of how families live today; more one and two bedroom properties, not five bedroom McMansions.
This development needs to be gradual, rather than a village like Cranleigh to have 400, 500 or 900 new homes dumped on its greenfield sites in a short space of time.
Instead of mass development on sensitive greenfield sites, developers and the local authorities should be proposing and supporting plans to identify brownfield sites each of which could accommodate a couple of new properties, and add these to the village gradually year on year.
Local brownfield sites, such as Dunsfold Park, should be used to take the pressure for new housing off villages like Cranleigh, assuming any large-scale developments there could with all of the required infrastructure to make them self-sufficient, and address the road capacity problems associated with the A281.
Of course, sensible as this alternative sounds, it won’t happen.
Cranleigh doesn’t have a ‘Local Plan’ yet, so developers will no doubt find a way to weasel past local politicians and get their plans approved at a national level.
Of the four greenfield site proposals currently in motion for Cranleigh, we believe two-thirds of the proposed housing, around 600 properties, will eventually be built – it would not surprise us if the Dunsfold Park development then proceeds, throwing a further several hundred (or more) houses into the local mix.
Until then, we can keep voicing our concerns and suggesting viable alternatives to crazy planning applications which would decimate green spaces and exacerbate already serious flooding risks.