Campaigners fighting plans for more than 2,000 homes at the former Wisley airfield have accused Guildford planners of conducting secret meetings with a developer.
The Wisley Action Group (WAG) claims Guildford Borough Council (GBC) were drawing a ‘veil of secrecy’ over its negotiations with Wisley Property Investments (WPI), which is hoping to build 2,100 homes, as well as a primary school, shops, offices, travellers pitches and sports facilities on the former airfield.
In July, GBC announced it was unable to reach a decision on the planning application by the August 7 deadline and that it would now rule on the contentious proposals by Christmas Eve.
WAG claims it received a letter from GBC council leader Stephen Mansbridge confirming the council was ‘having regular progress meetings’ with WPI which would ‘enable the local planning authority to monitor the position closely,’ leading up to the final decision.
However, when the campaigners asked for confirmation the meetings would be minuted, the group was told that minutes would only be taken ‘where this is necessary’, leading to claims of secrecy.
It is also understood planning officers would seek to agree ‘action points’ rather than taking formal minutes.
In response, WAG has made a freedom of information (FOI) request for copies of the minutes of the meetings but said it had not received a reply as of Wednesday (September 2).
Tony Edwards, WAG committee member, said: “So far a veil of secrecy seems to have been drawn over the ongoing negotiations between WPI and Guildford planners. Our FOI request of July 31 was acknowledged shortly after so we are now beyond the normal 20 working days for an official response.
“Cllr Mansbridge has made it clear that he will be having regular meetings about the Wisley ‘new town’ proposal with WPI to address the many objections to the plan. But it is equally clear that, at the moment, they will only be minuted when GBC thinks fit.
“We believe that all meetings related to a planning application of this size and importance should be minuted as a matter of public interest and to ensure the clarity and transparency about which Guildford regularly boasts.”
A spokesman for WPI said that the former Wisley Airfield contains the largest brownfield site in Guildford’s greenbelt and would constitute a significant contribution to the urgent housing need in the area, including 800 new affordable homes.
The spokesman said: “As you might expect from an application of this scale and importance, and as is typical both pre- and post-planning application, we have been in ongoing dialogue with the GBC to discuss technical details of the plans to ensure we bring forward the best possible development for the Guildford area.
“In a recent survey undertaken by the independent polling agency, Marketing Means, 46% of respondents were supportive of the proposals for Wisley Airfield and only 30% were opposed, whilst 65% of under-35s support development at Wisley Airfield.”
A spokesman for Guildford Borough Council said that it was normal procedure for the council to remain in contact with planning applicants throughout the application process.
The spokesman said: “Where we have formal meetings around a set agenda, or where a councillor is present, the council will ensure that minutes of the meeting are kept.
“We can confirm that neither Cllr Mansbridge, nor any other councillor, have attended any meetings to discuss the progress of the current planning application.”