Any reader of this blog will know that I am a convinced supporter of the Free Schools movement and of the Cobham Free School in particular. There has been plenty of speculation around the town as to where the Free School would be looking to build its secondary school, and last night we were all able to look at the plans. The public consultation at the Gospel Hall was very well attended, and quite rightly so.
The location is Chippings Farm, on land owned by the Burhill Estate to the north-west of the Portsmouth Road. It is green belt land. At Elmbridge we are vigilant whenever an application comes in that affects green belt land and we rarely grant permission in such cases.
The Free School will be allowed to build their school on that land if – and only if – planning permission is granted for a development of what is at present up to 500 homes on the site. Not less than 40% of those homes would have to be affordable homes, and again readers will know that, as Cabinet Member for Housing I am well aware of the need for such properties in Elmbridge.
We are therefore faced with a hard choice between our commitment to protect the Green Belt, and the undoubted need for a secondary school serving the Cobham, Downside, Oxshott and Stoke d’Abernon area. It would of course be marvellous if we could have the school without sacrificing the Green Belt land but that cosy option simply is not open to us. We are going to have to make a tough decision. The issue was front page news in today’s Surrey Advertiser and the comments quoted there suggest that some people have already made up their minds.
As a Borough Councillor for the ward in which the School and the houses would be sited I would like to know what people who live in and around Cobham think. You may either leave a comment on this blog or else email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will acknowledge all comments and will post a blog at some time in the future summarising the comments I have received. Any email addresses or names will be kept confidential.
This is the most important decision facing Cobham in the time that I have lived here. Its importance for future generations cannot be underestimated. Please let me have your views.