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The Planning Inspectorate has approved plans by Walton Heath Golf Club to swap an area of common land known as Beecham’s Field on the golf course for a site some distance away.
The land to be taken is 80,000 square metres on the west side of the golf course (near the car-park) which the golf club wishes to develop into a practice ground for golfers. The proposed replacement is 98,000 square metres south of the M25 near Round Wood.
Because the land is common, such exchange must be approved by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (delegated to the Planning Inspectorate). As this case was controversial there was a public inquiry last May. The objectors included the Tadworth and Walton Residents’ Association, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the British Horse Society, the Open Spaces Society and many local people.
The inspector, Mr Barney Grimshaw, has approved the application. He concluded that, on balance, the overall effect of the proposed exchange on the public interest would be positive, as he considered that more of the nature conservation potential of the site could be realised and the public would benefit from being able to gain access to a new interesting and attractive area.
Local people argued that the exchange land was over a kilometre away and was not as easily accessible as the existing land, requiring a walk or ride up the steep scarp slope of the North Downs. Both walkers and riders have rights on the existing common, and these rights will be transferred to the exchange land.
We feel that the public has lost out. The proposed replacement land is some way off, on the other side of the M25 which walkers and riders must cross by a bridge shared with other users including cyclists. The exchange land is very different in character, being wooded and on a steep slope; it is attractive but it is less suitable for walkers and riders of all abilities. We do not believe this to be a fair exchange.