New season, new thinking?

The crocuses are punctuating the leaf litter in the woodland at the top of Merrow Downs, with bluebell shoots not far behind.

Tormead has officially taken residence at the Urnfield sports ground but there is little sign as yet of any construction materials apart from 8 large, grey coloured telescopic poles lying on the grass: presumably the floodlight stands, perhaps ordered many months ago on the assumption that the development would be completed, or at least well under way, by this point. As it is, the remaining pre commencement condition, which provides for an effective ecological and landscape management plan for this sensitive site, is outstanding.

Ensuring the protection of Merrow’s badgers is at the heart of this plan. We were advised by GBC at the beginning of the year that the developer and its ecologists, along with Surrey Wildlife Trust and the West Surrey Badger Group met onsite to discuss the mitigation work required to comply with the Badger Protection Act 1992. There were (we were told) differing opinions as to the status of the various setts, and, as we understand it, an agreement from all sides that further survey evidence was required.

This is important because the plans to ensure no badgers or their setts are harmed or destroyed during and after construction need to take account of how the setts are being used, and whether by one family group of badgers, or by more than one. Badger clans do not like to mingle with each other and need to retain distinct territorial boundaries.

Even if GBC does sign off this last remaining pre commencement condition, the developer still needs to obtain a special licence from Natural England to close temporarily any setts close to the development area. And they need to be sure no badgers have managed to find their way back in to a closed sett (it goes without saying that badgers are very good at digging). This process can only take place between July and November and will need to be verified by qualified and experienced ecologists. So it still has some way to go.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the developer is a little frustrated at the delays, given that the Planning Inspector decided in October 2022 to overturn the council’s unanimous refusal of this application. If the standard and coherence of the material submitted by the developer to meet the pre commencement conditions had been of a higher quality, we might be in a very different place. As they say, it is what it is.

But you can’t help putting yourself in the other side’s shoes and wondering whether it’s time to have a re-think about this project, as costs spiral (with delays adding further costs) and the wildlife issues further complicating construction plans and timetables. School parents who supported the project back in 2020 are now looking at daughters who are nearly 4 years older.

Because there are alternatives. The school initiated its planning permission for its onsite MUGA last summer, although to date has only implemented the first stage, but it could achieve much of what it wants in sports provision by completing that project. No difficult pre commencement conditions with that one.

Or – and how about this for a crazy idea – it could invest what must now be eye-watering amounts in a more accessible facility that could be of much greater community benefit (purported to be one of the aims of the Urnfield development), say, by helping redevelop the Spectrum site which is crying out for investment (probably at a lower cost, not to mention the kudos that would be associated with it). Instead Tormead seems determined to focus its energies and its money on what some might call a vanity project.

It’s hard to call time on something on which people have staked so much of their reputation. Politicians struggle with this all the time and often get slated for “U turns”. The rest of us just call it changing our mind, recognising the sunk costs fallacy and admitting when the old plan needs ripping up and a new one putting in its place. And all credit to us when we do.





Leave a comment

Follow by Email