We have written to Guildford Borough Council’s head of development, Barry Fagg, calling on the council to abandon its plan to use three areas of common land close to Guildford in Surrey as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). This is proposed to compensate for development close to the Special Protection Area (SPA) of Whitmoor Common Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Developers are legally required to provide alternative open space when they wish to build close to an SPA, the highest form of protection under European legislation. This is to ensure that the development does not increase the pressure for public recreation on the sensitive SPA. However, Natural England, the government’s adviser on nature conservation and recreation, has produced guidelines which state that SANG cannot be land with existing public access, and it must not be land which itself is of importance for nature conservation.
Guildford Borough Council, in proposing three areas of common land as SANG, is ignoring these guidelines. The three commons, Broad Street and Backside Commons to the west of Guildford, and Stringer’s Common to the north, already have full public access — people have rights to walk and ride over the whole area. In addition, they are designated as Sites of Nature Conservation Importance. So they do not qualify as SANG.
Not only does the public gain no new access as a result of the development, but there is also a loss of public benefit because the nature conservation importance of these commons will be imperilled.
The whole point is that developers must provide new open space in exchange for being allowed to build close to the SPA. They cannot be allowed just to adopt existing open spaces, which will then become urbanised and over-used.
We shall campaign vigorously, with CPRE Surrey and other organisations, to ensure that the developers are required to provide new open space for the public and that the commons are saved.