A public-inquiry inspector has rejected Woking Borough Council’s plans to swap part of Westfield Common at Woking in Surrey, to provide an access road to a potential new housing development.
The decision from the inspector, Heidi Cruickshank, followed a public inquiry last July into the application for the exchange of common land, to which there were 15 objections. The objectors included the Westfield Common Residents’ Association (WCRA) and local people as well as ourselves.
Woking Council wanted to deregister 387 square metres of the common, which is wet woodland and a site of Nature Conservation Interest. The land to be given in exchange was 562 square metres, to the north of the release land and to the east of the common. It is partly the garden of a derelict house, Oaklands on Balfour Avenue, and partly a field.
The council was required to show, among other things, that the proposed replacement land would add something of positive benefit to the neighbourhood, and that there were potential benefits to nature conservation. The inspector ruled that although there was a potential benefit to the neighbourhood in allowing access to the proposed development, the replacement land did not add anything of positive benefit to the neighbourhood, and she concluded that it was inferior in terms of nature conservation.
This is an excellent result. The common is much loved and enjoyed by the community and many people were concerned that it was to be broken up. The impact of taking away the land for the access road would have been considerable.
The replacement land might have benefited the residents of the new development, but it would not benefit the wider community. Furthermore, the replacement land would not have automatically become part of the Site of Nature Conservation Importance, so an area of considerable value for natural history would have been destroyed.
Says Nicola Cull, secretary of the WCRA: ‘The WCRA is delighted with the result. We hope the decision will make a difference to Woking Borough Council and show that it’s not OK to destroy what is left of the small patches of greenery around Woking and on our commons.
‘All along we have stated that the development will be detrimental to the common and the existing community.
‘We want the people of Woking to realise this isn’t just about Moor Lane and the proposed development, this is about protecting what’s beautiful about Woking and why we choose to live here—trees, green space and wildlife,’ Nicola concludes.