Why is Merrow Downs so important?
If you know Merrow Downs, you will know how important it is, for people, wildlife and nature more broadly. It is a gorgeous area of open chalk grassland, alive in the spring and summer with wildflowers and skylarks, with the woodland at the edge home to badgers, bats, dormice and owls.
From the top of Merrow Downs on a clear day you can see planes taking off from Heathrow, the Wembley arch and the whole of the skyline of the city of London, about 30 miles to the north. Merrow Downs is loved and used by residents from all over Guildford and beyond. Families come to walk (a path leads from the Downs up to Newlands Corner and the North Downs Way), people bring their dogs, teenagers have picnics there in the summer. At night it is a great place to star gaze because it is so high up and rural, but yet so close to Guildford.
Why is it under threat?
Because Merrow Downs is part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty you might think it is protected from development. Sadly, this isn’t the case. A local private girls’ school, Tormead, plans to build a floodlit astroturf hockey pitch on the Urnfield, a grass sports ground just behind the woodland you can see in the photo above. The 8 floodlight towers would shine down above the treeline for up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week between the beginning of November and the end of March.
For many years Tormead School has been using other hockey pitches in and around Guildford, including at Surrey Sports Park and at a range of other local schools. But Tormead wants to have its own facilities to host competitive fixtures. The development was initially refused – unanimously – by our local planning authority, but Tormead appealed against this decision and it has been allowed by the Planning Inspectorate.
What’s our concern?
We are a group of local residents who came together because we love Merrow Downs and we think it deserves to be protected for the future, for people and for wildlife. Most of us have children and we believe in the value of sport and of time outdoors. But Guildford is blessed with a wide range of sporting facilities already, and unspoilt green space is just as important in helping us all stay fit and well, mentally and physically. The proposed hockey pitch is a specialist facility, not the sort of pitch on which you can also play football, for example, so it doesn’t have a wide community benefit.
But Merrow Downs benefits the whole community – people with all sorts of interests, passions and capabilities. Building floodlights on a high ridge in a nationally protected landscape (and digging up 1 hectare of chalk grassland and replacing it with astroturf) seems to us to be not just reckless. It is simply wrong.
What are we asking of you?
- Help us raise the funds to fight the floodlights and protect our dark skies
- Spread the word about our campaign
- Show your support by subscribing to our campaign news using the tab at the top
Merrow Downs Residents’ Group formed in response to the Urnfield development. We are building our evidence base to continue to challenge the development, through the planning process and through legal channels. We know that there are flaws and deficiencies in the detailed plans that the developer needs to get signed off before construction can start, and we are exposing these flaws to the planners and the public.
We also need more funds to continue this work (for example, for commissioning specialist wildlife surveys and for instructing a solicitor). If you would like to contribute to our fighting fund then please visit our Gofundme page here. If you haven’t been to Merrow Downs then come and visit and see how gorgeous it is. Fabulous nature, right on our doorstep. Thank you for your support.