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Woking Borough Council is consulting interest groups and local people on plans to swap part of Westfield Common. The intention is to provide an access road to a potential new housing development north of Moor Lane.
Woking Council wanted to deregister 387 square metres of the common. It is wet woodland and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest. The plan to exchange common land was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate, following a public inquiry last year. Now Woking Council has revived its plans offering an additional area of land in exchange as a sweetener, the two sites totally 954 square metres. The Open Spaces Society, the Westfield Common Residents’ Association and many local residents have objected.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We do not consider that the public is gaining anything from this proposed swap.
The council is offering two areas of common land in exchange for the chunk being taken. The first is almost identical to the original proposal which was rejected partly because it was inferior for nature conservation. The council now claims that it will comply with a management plan recommended by the Surrey Wildlife Trust to improve the nature conservation of this site. However, there is no guarantee that this improvement will actually happen.
The second area of exchange land, immediately to the east of the pond at Willow Bank, may well already be registered common land. We understand that it was scheduled for development some years ago, but we are not aware that it has been deregistered.
If it is still common land, clearly it cannot be offered in exchange. If it is not common land, it is still of little benefit because people already use it freely. It’s a recreation ground and is crossed by a public footpath. It is treated as a public open space.
We are dismayed that Woking Council seems set on allowing use of part of Westfield Common for development. Our commons are of vital importance, for their history as well as their landscape, recreational and wildlife value. Walkers and riders have the rights to enjoy the whole of Westfield Common, and we feel this special land should be protected, not frittered away for development.’