Dear Sir, it’s not my fault. The dog ate my homework.

Recent Tormead parent communications lay the blame for the delay in beginning construction at the Urnfield squarely at the feet of Guildford Borough Council’s planning department, with Tormead and its consultants portrayed as innocent victims of a process deliberately being frustrated by what they are now calling a “pressure group”.

Yes, we have been elevated from a local residents’ group to this status, presumably so that parents will associate Merrow Downs Residents’ Group with more political activists such as Just Stop Oil, XR, or Greenpeace. Should we therefore be investing in some printed T shirts, spray paint and glitter?? Perhaps describing us now as a pressure group, rather than as local residents, is an “othering” tactic being used to help Tormead’s parents distance themselves from the concerns of local people who are pretty much just like them.

The school describes how Guildford Borough Council “chose not to contest” the judicial review over the summer but fails to explain the school’s role in the proceedings. This legal challenge was successful because Tormead did not submit the correct information in seeking to get their planning permission conditions discharged.  Yes, Guildford Borough Council should have checked that it had been done correctly so they were the subject of the challenge (that’s how judicial review works). GBC could not contest the legal challenge we launched, as Tormead’s own solicitors understood, because all parties agreed the process had not been followed correctly.

You can decide where the blame lies, but we would argue it’s not solely the fault of GBC. We can see how public knowledge about this lack of attention to detail might be embarrassing for the school, but still…The Urnfield update ends with a flourish that clearly comes from a dark place…”the fact remains that this project has been granted planning permission at appeal and cannot be stopped.”

Cannot be stopped?! Are we talking about an earthquake or volcanic eruption here? A force of nature against which all human intervention is futile?! The ramping up of the rhetoric in this way surely isn’t designed to intimidate local residents with valid concerns (aka pressure group) who are seeking to ensure that the planning permission is implemented as stipulated by the inspector in her decision?

This permission includes certain conditions to be met to safeguard the interests of the community and the natural environment. The documents submitted by the school to discharge these conditions, in our view, continue not to comply with the scheme agreed by the inspector, and there remain inconsistencies between the plans so it is unsurprising that the Council has not yet given them the go-ahead. We have been pointing out these inconsistencies and suggesting improvements for months, so there has been plenty of time for Tormead to produce a coherent implementation plan worthy of a site in the Surrey Hills AONB. Yet Tormead seems unwilling to accept its role in the continued delays and instead places all of the blame on GBC.

One of our continuing concerns is about safeguarding wildlife (especially protected species such as badgers, bats and dormice) on the Urnfield site and on Merrow Downs. We would not suggest that anyone has broken the law, but we do believe that if the development had gone ahead as the school intended over the summer then there was a serious risk that wildlife protection laws could have been contravened. We understand that Surrey Police wildlife crime officers have already visited the area at the invitation of one concerned wildlife group.

Finally, perhaps it’s worth returning to the points made in our last blog – how proper and respectful community engagement with local residents on such a controversial development in a nationally protected landscape could have made this process less painful for all concerned, generated a better outcome, and set a positive example of citizenship for the school’s students. In the absence of that, perhaps a blame game is inevitable; but shouldn’t this blame be shared?

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