On Monday April 8th, about 100 people, including 3 councillors and a MVDC officer, gathered at Letherhead Institute for the LRA’s largest AGM to date. Local Green Belt issues, proposed developments, and the possible loss of the Barnett Wood Lane Allotments had clearly aroused interest.
Three eminent speakers with diverse backgrounds shared their experience and brought a common thread to the fast moving evening; ‘We all need to engage with our community and the council to ensure decisions are not made over our heads and in ignorance of our thoughts and feelings on matters that concern our environment’.
John Howarth, Director of ‘Action for Market Towns’, and Leatherhead Area Partnership(LAP) chairman, talked of potential developments planned in the Green Belt near Junction 9 of the M25: ie a hotel complex, housing, a shopping mall, or a luxury retail outlet similar to Bicester Village in Oxfordshire.
John questioned whether developments such as Bicester Village, should be regarded as opportunity or threat to neighbouring towns. Some evidence suggested the latter, as he found considerable traffic and parking problems at Bicester and, and nearby, the original Bicester ‘dead’.
John suggested we should be gathering as much retail information and data as possible concerning the Leatherhead area in advance of such planning applications, with a view to either preventing development altogether, or ensuring that its financial benefits would spread to existing retailers and the wider community.
Lucy Quinnell, owner of the Fire and Iron Gallery, updated progress at Teazle Wood. Her account of how she had galvanised the community into supporting her bid to secure the future of Teazle Wood was heartfelt and heart warming.
She described the erosion of the countryside with the coming of the M25 motorway in the early 80s and the consequent destruction of large areas of grassland and woodland. She showed evidence of destruction of nearby woodland and grassland as recently as winter 2013. Thanks to Lucy, a 57 acre wooded site is now safe.
Andy Smith, Surrey Branch Director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) explained the origins of the Green Belt and the reasons why it had come under threat, particularly in Surrey.
Andy expressed concern that too little was being done to ensure that brownfield sites were prioritised. His passionate appeal was that the Green Belt should only be considered when
all other possibilities had been exhausted. He firmly believes in MORE Great Belt as a result of
MV’s Boundary review, not less.
He commented on John Howarth’s, “nightmare vision of a retail village . . . It would destroy Leatherhead High Street once and for all. Defending the Green Belt, saving the Barnett Wood Lane Allotments and thwarting plans for a retail village are all part of the same thing. This really is a question of saving Leatherhead from developers!”
The mood and applause of the audience showed an appreciation of the three speakers and their messages.
Whilst we don’t know what the future holds for the Barnett Wood Lane Allotment/Merton College Green Belt site, this AGM showed us just how many threats there are to the future of Leatherhead. Please join the LRA in our efforts to continue to support the preservation of the Green Belt and the allotments and to ensure a future for Leatherhead as a viable market town.
If you have a pressing issue that you need to speak about on the night of any closed meetings
please come to the door at 7:20pm to pass on your concerns.
May 13th – Closed meeting
June 3rd – Open meeting
July 1st- Open meeting-speaker-possibly the Police Commissioner who has asked to visit us
August- Closed meeting