Mind The Gap - Preserve the Grayshott - Headley Down Local Gap

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Preserving the countryside between Grayshott and Headley Down

The countryside around Grayshott is extraordinary and much of it is protected.  The Devil’s Punchbowl is within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).  Ludshott Common’s 700 acres of heathland are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA) due to the number of endangered species.  These classifications and the National Trust’s management provide a robust degree of protection.

However, not all of our green spaces are as “protected” as we may imagine.  In particular the area to the West of Grayshott faces increasing threats.

The Grayshott Society and West of Grayshott Conservation Group (WGCG) have recently become very concerned that many residents and visitors are unaware of the serious threats to the Local Gap between Grayshott and Headley Down and its adjoining green spaces.  It is very easy to take these areas for granted so we have prepared this petition and supporting information about the threats and what each of us may do to help in mitigation.

Petition:   we, the undersigned, wish to help maintain the individual characters and identities of Grayshott and Headley Down by conserving all remaining green spaces in and around the Local Gap.  We ask EHDC to deny any further sacrifice of the Local Gap and surrounding green areas and identify brownfield land to meet development requirements.

If you wish to help preserve this area please read the following background and then SIGN THIS PETITION - or just sign if you are already familiar with the situation.

Firstly, it is important to understand the “Local Gap”.  It is one of many nationwide created to avoid the coalescence of small settlements.  In broad terms it runs West from the Grayshott Settlement Policy Boundary (SPB) at Waggoners Way to Wilsons Road, which marks part of the Headley Down SPB.  While exceptions are possible (albeit too complex to describe here) the principle of gaps is that it should be very difficult to gain approval for development proposals within them.  Both Grayshott and Headley Down Parish Councils have recently raised serious concerns about this gap.

Our concerns for its future start with developments already approved by East Hampshire District Council (EHDC) within the Local Gap.

These include Applegarth Vale, a development of 80 dwellings within the gap, approved despite being outside Grayshott’s SPB and within the Local Gap. The benefits of promised affordable accommodation and the promise of new jobs at the adjacent Applegarth Retail development were considered to outweigh the environmental harm.  EHDC’s decision was not unanimous, as several members of the Planning Committee disagreed with this analysis and argued in favour of observing the protections that should be afforded to the gap.

More recently the development of Bowleswood Farm (next to Fairlands) was approved by a substantial majority of Councillors at EHDC, despite strong protests from the minority. This provides gypsy and traveller accommodation comprising “6 pitches each with a mobile home, one touring caravan, one utility day room, car parking and associated works”.  This also accounts for a significant part of the Local Gap.  Again, following lengthy debate, reasons were found by EHDC to support the application, despite strong objections from Grayshott and Headley Parish Councils, Grayshott Society, WGCG and a number of individual neighbours.

It is worthy of note that an application to build a 42-bed care home in the gap was rejected by EHDC.  The applicant appealed and, significantly, the appeal inspector stated preservation of the gap as a key factor in upholding the rejection.

The inspector’s example has not, however, been followed by EHDC.  Following warnings since 2012 by Cllr Cowper that the gap is under threat, EHDC appears to be taking the path of least resistance to development applications in this area.  Their decisions appear to be based on highly subjective considerations, rendering it difficult for any planning layperson to challenge them.  For example, one expert has recently concluded that “ …  many (perhaps the majority of) applications <countrywide for gypsy/traveller sites> are mishandled … “ but, as a community, we lack the knowledge and experience to question this locally.

In the local public eye EHDC has now established a track-record of taking easy decisions that the public is unable to challenge effectively, at the cost of irreversible damage to the gap.

There are other concerns regarding the future of the gap, especially EHDC’s recent Supplementary Planning Document consultation which proposes to make it easier for them to approve certain developments within the 400 meter Exclusion Zone around Ludshott Common Special Protection Area (SPA).  SPAs should be strictly protected in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Birds Directive.

We also anticipate other potential development applications, including the former golf driving range (next to Applegarth) and possibly opportunistic proposals following EHDC’s apparent reluctance to protect the gap.

The Grayshott – Headley Down Local Gap is now at a tipping point.  No further development can be permitted if we are to avoid coalescence of the two settlements into what Cllr Cowper has recently “joked” could become known as “Grayshott – Headley Down”.

EHDC must be made aware of the strength of public opinion against further destruction of the gap.  The Grayshott Society and West of Grayshott Conservation Group invite you to please sign our petition urgently and provide your email address to continue to receive further news and updates on the situation.  We will also make the petition available electronically in the near future.

Further information is available from westofgrayshott@gmail.com and we will soon introduce a presence on Nextdoor Grayshott to enable wider discussion and awareness.

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