134. Before the mast: Pewley Down, Guildford

pewley-down-and-st-marthas-hill-may2006.jpgI love Pewley Down.

It’s a wonderfully scenic and beautiful piece of landscape, right next to the heart of Guildford.

The land was given to the town by the Friary Brewery after World War I, so that the hillside could be protected from development and enjoyed by local people in perpetuity.

I strolled up here one lunchtime soon after starting a new job in 1995, and the outlook which greeted me that day is certainly the reason I moved to Guildford a few years later. I’ve enjoyed walking and running here ever since. With time, this place has become a part of me, and even of who I am.

The views from here, both over the Weald Basin and the Surrey Hills to the south and towards London to the north, are outstanding, as is the green prospect of the Chalk ridgeline from the fields and countryside around the town.

And so it’s disappointing to recount that Orange has long been intent on erecting a massive telephone mast high on Pewley Down.

The company has made repeated planning applications here in the face of enormously strong opposition from all those who love and use this landscape – opposition which has consistently, and rightly, led Guildford Borough Council always to refuse permission for a telephone mast here.

Despite this, Orange seem more than determined still to press ahead.

As I recall, the original request was for a 20 m high mast. The second attempt was at 15 m, but that was turned down, too, following a campaign co-ordinated through one of the local schools.

So did Orange give up, and respect the views of the local people ?


They prepared a new application for a 12 m mast, of a different design. They submitted it during the first week of the 2005 school summer holidays, perhaps hoping that no one would be around to complain. And to make it appear that they had re-sited the mast, Orange cunningly wrote their application for ‘land adjoining South Warren Farm’.

Actually, it’s directly next to the hedge on the very crest of Pewley Down.

You might think that a cynical manipulation of the procedures, but hey – that’s how planning regulation so often is. Developers routinely submit slightly modified applications until the objectors finally give up. That’s what is called ‘due process’, but it’s clearly not how it was meant to run.

But despite the season, and fortunately, many more objections were received, and that application was turned down as well.

It was becoming abundantly clear that applications on this site were unlikely ever to be approved.

Rather belatedly, then, Orange consulted with local residents about the siting of some smaller masts within residential streets nearby instead. Most people didn’t want even those to be put up. The company seemed to listen.

But now Orange has entered an appeal, attempting once again to erect a 12 m telephone mast onto the very top of Pewley Down. 12 m doesn’t sound that tall, but it’s 40′, more or less.

Today’s letter says that the First Secretary of State will consider the appeal. That’s a shame, since nearly ninety years after the gift of Pewley Down, its value is even greater today.

We need to protect the public amenity and natural environment of one of Guildford’s most special places – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, right on our doorstep and within walking distance of our town.

The end of this sorry saga is now surely in sight, and the beauty of Pewley Down may yet be preserved for future generations.

pewley-down-from-south-warren-farm-may2006.jpgPlease write (3 copies, ref. 06/P/01104) by 19.02.2007, to:

The Planning Inspectorate
Room 3/26 Hawk Wing
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay
Bristol BS1 6PN

Thanks for listening.

Related articles:
58. Running in the North Downs
83. Seven Bridges Road – the Wey floodplain
34. Lines from the Battle of Guildford
123. Bridge on the River Wey

12 responses to “134. Before the mast: Pewley Down, Guildford

  1. My letters are winging their way as I type. Two things occurred to me reading your empassioned piece this morning.

    Firstly, I hope and suspect resistance will have increased with the recent revelations that mobile ‘phones (and by association, masts) may be the ‘new tobacco’. Scientists investigating the long term effects of holding a microwave next to your brain announced that whilst initial results were ‘inconclusive’, the effects of longer term use (in excess of ten years) could not be determined due to insufficient availale data.

    This is pretty much what happened with the smoking/ lung cancer studies in thte last century. Only after intensive monitoring had continued for around fifteen years did a link emerge.

    I’m a user of the cell phone and no longer a smoker, so I have a keen interest in the outcome.

    My other point is not intended to be flippant or inflammatory, but it needs raising; how would you feel about planning for a number of New Age windmills on your beloved hill?

  2. Hi, Sweder. I’m not sure whether mobile phones are the new tobacco, but they are certainly addictive.

    Thanks for asking whether I would like to see a wind turbine on Pewley Down. It was only fair to raise that question after my previous post.

    No, I wouldn’t. I want to make it absolutely clear that my enthusiasm for wind energy is based on a massive increase in the number of offshore wind turbines, where the wind intensity and frequency are higher and the visual impact is negligible or zero.

    If wind turbines are built onshore, then these need to be extremely carefully and sensitively sited, and not within our most valuable and frequented landscapes.

    Pewley Down is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and therefore in my view is not suited for either windmills or telephone masts.

    Far from helping to solve our energy problems, the poor siting of onshore wind turbines will certainly be detrimental to the cause since it will only serve to alienate the population against this form of energy. You can already see something of a critical backlash in the letters pages of the national press, and indeed amongst the comments on this site, against those onshore wind turbines that have been erected.

    That is unfortunate since it will only serve to give the whole area of wind energy a bad name, and ultimately may delay the contribution which wind energy has to make.

    That would be a huge lost opportunity, particularly since the new windfarms which have been built in Liverpool Bay and the Thames Estuary, and their successors now in the planning stage, have effectively no potential to degrade our precious and limited landscape.

    It is exactly that type of project which I would like to see being repeated and expanded on a massive scale in future.

    Thanks for asking !

  3. Good for you – I’m on your side Roads.
    I live in the windiest place this side of Chicago but I’d weep blood if they dropped a turbine on my beloved downs.

    The tobacco analogy refers to the similarity in findings of the researchers. back then the scientists ruled after a ten year study that results were ‘inconclusive’ – we all know what happened next.

  4. We’re constantly facing this sort of thing in America as well — the enroachment of all-terrain vehicles, gambling casinos, and all the new darker Satanic mills Blake never imagined in his wildest flights of fancy — slowly filling in the last of the wild places. Since I’ve switched largely to trail running, I’m even more aware of it than I was before.

    It doesn’t have to be that way, and I’ve started fighting it here in various and sundry small ways. The very best to you, Roads, in a fight that is well worth the frustrations.

  5. Thanks, Ed – and your reference to William Blake’s green and pleasant land is a fitting one.

    Even better, I particularly admired your word selection in referring to the blight of 4×4 SUVs as:

    ‘the enroachment of all terrain vehicles’.

    Actually, I’m not quite sure whether that was an intentional typo or not, but I’ll tell you what – it’s such an incredibly elegant phrase that it’s well worth using again …

  6. ‘Enroachment’ – you could send that one to the Washington Post competition for words where a letter has been added, subtracted or changed, and a new meaning added, ‘Style Invitational’.

    Enroachment: the pervasive effect of SUVs on wild places.

  7. That’s a very elegant definition, Sarah.

    I wonder if these might also prove useful in certain related contexts:

    Incarjection – the act of objecting to enroachment;

    and/or rather less tastefully perhaps (?)

    Incarjerkate – the act of consuming fast food whilst driving an SUV …

  8. I’m very pleased to report at last that the Planning Inspectorate has finally rejected Orange Telecommunications’ plea to allow a telephone mast on the crest of Pewley Down.

    Thank you to everyone who wrote to express a view.

    Let’s hope this means that Pewley Down will remain safe for some time to come, and for future generations to enjoy.

    There is now a plan afoot to purchase more land from South Warren Farm, in fact the same field on the northern slope exactly where Orange had wanted to place their mast. The aim is to add this area on to Pewley Down as an extension of the public open space.

    I’ve noticed over the past few months that many people have started to walk these fields whilst exercising their dogs and en route with their children to Holy Trinity School.

    It would be marvellous if this land could be made available to the public on a more formal basis – it boasts wonderful northward views across Guildford to the cathedral as well as northeast to Woking and on towards London beyond.

    I’ll keep you posted of further progress.

  9. Roads – we will see about this. The land you talk about to extend the downs is farm land and very fertile. It produces in the region of 2.5 – 3 tons an acre of malting barley, which is exported to Germany. I know, because I farm it!

    I can confirm that the council has talked to me about giving up 18 acres, and I can also confirm I am dead against giving it up, as it would make my arable business un-economic. Current grain prices have increased 300% in the last year – GBP182.00 per ton from GBP60.00 per ton, and I see this as a continuing trend as more and more land is taken out of food production for the use of growing bi-fuels – DEFRA agree as does the EU – for your information, farmers are being encouraged to put set-aside land back into food production for this particular reason.

    I have invested a conciderable amount of time and money in this land, and am not going to give it up without a fight!

    As for your comment ‘I’ve noticed over the past few months that many people have started to walk these fields whilst exercising their dogs and en route with their children to Holy Trinity School.’ – this is laughable, and not the case. I have lived on the farm for 20 odd years, and I have not seen any increase in the number of people walking across the Downs.

    You people are the ones who jump up and down when you have to pay higher prices for food, but want to take farm land out of food production for a ‘nice view’. You can not have it both ways. And anyway, whats wrong with a field of barley blowing in the wind? I think it is a marvelous sight, and am sure many people would agree with me.

    So please, get off my case!

  10. Thanks very much for your comment, Allan. It’s very good of you to share your point of view.

    I’ve no issue with the land being farmed. It’s hard work, I know, and if you want to keep it green, that’s ideal.

    My concern was that Orange were so determined to put a telephone mast up there, or (even worse) that the land might one day be sold for development.

    As you rightly say, the land looks wonderful right now, and it would be very sad for everyone in Guildford if it were spoiled.

  11. My pleasure – I would hope that you are also aware then that as a result of the council being able to extend the carpark at the end of Pilgrims Way to accomodate twelve extra cars (and another three sights within the 5km radius of Whitmore Common, so an extra 48 places), the council is now in a position to grant permission for an extra 3500 residential properties / extensions?
    As you are probabably aware, the farm falls within a Special Protection Area (SPA), and these 48 extra carparking places have made it extremely easier for the council to grant planning permission. So – 48 carparking places – 3500 potential more residents…..even it it works out to half that number, I do not believe Guildford has the necessary infrastructure.

    All this information is availabe on the council’s website (but you need to dig for it, and I can understand why, as there could well be a hidden agenda)

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