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We are delighted that a planning inspector has rejected a proposed access-road across Dunsfold Common, 14 kilometres south of Guildford in Surrey.
The application for a 5.5-metre-wide road, with 1.5-metre-wide footway and associated works, was made for Sigma Homes Ltd, the prospective developer, by Batcheller Monkhouse, surveyors and town planners. The proposed road was to provide access to a development of up to 53 homes on adjacent land, for which outline planning permission was sought, but has since been refused. The road was to replace an existing, narrower (2.5 metres) access to Coombebury Cottage.
There is a right for the public to walk and ride over the whole common; it is within an Area of Great Landscape Value, and is designated as a non-statutory Site of Nature Conservation Interest. The common is owned by Waverley Borough Council.
Because the works were on common land they needed the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006. Such decisions are delegated to the Planning Inspectorate which appointed inspector Barney Grimshaw to determine this case.
There were 14 objections, from individuals and organisations, including Dunsfold Parish Council, the British Horse Society, Natural England, and the Open Spaces Society. The society argued that government policy required that the applicant provide land in exchange for that to be taken for the road, since the works were inconsistent with the traditional use of the common. The application ought therefore to have been made under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006 which allows for the deregistration and exchange of common land, with replacement land being added to the common of equal value to that taken (the development included designated open space which could have been used as replacement land). Section 38 was to be used where works were of some public benefit to the common (such as a sports pavilion).
The inspector agreed, considering that the wider benefits of the proposed works were not clear, and there was no reason why a suitable area of replacement land could not be provided. In addition, public access would have to be temporarily restricted during construction of the road. He concluded that the works would not maintain or improve the common, nor confer wider public benefit. He therefore rejected the application.
Says Hugh Craddock, one of our case officers: ‘This is an excellent result. It is vital that we protect our commons from encroachment and development, and it was evident that this proposal was against the public interest. This is the second access road across Dunsfold Common to be refused under section 38—in December 2021 an inspector refused consent for an access road at Gratton Chase. We hope it will deter potential developers from seeing common land as an easy option for siting unwelcome infrastructure, and that they will now get the message — provide replacement land or risk years of delay to your development.’