Runnymede residents fury as planning committee chairman looks to develop former council maintained green

Controversy has erupted in Chertsey as a piece of land in a residential road that is believed to have been previously maintained by the council, could be developed by Runnymede’s planning committee chairman. Residents of Riversdell Close are upset they may lose a green in their road which is often used for dog walking. At the end of last year it was purchased by Councillor Myles Willingale, who has submitted a planning application to construct a two-bedroom home there.

The land was part of the highway network, and it was therefore the duty of Surrey County Council to maintain, which we understand was outsourced to Runnymede. We asked them to confirm this, but they did not comment. Both Runnymede and the county council appeared reluctant to provide residents with answers.

But Surrey County Council confirmed: “It is possible the developer of this modern estate (Riversdell Close, built in the 1970’s) sold the highway subsoil at some stage following the completion of the development. This includes the application plot.”

If you own the subsoil beneath a highway you are free to deal with that how you like, provided that you do not interfere with the rights to use the highway. The land would be free from any Highway Authority Control.

Consequently, residents also fear Mr Willingale could turn the road into a private one, charging maintenance fees and other associated costs. Not all roads, streets or footpaths are public highways and some can be privately owned or maintained. Any work interrupting highway use needs the local highways authority’s consent.

It will now be for Runnymede Borough Council to decide on the application but if successful, the applicant would also require a Stopping Up Order before being able to undertake any development.

Stopping Up Orders can be applied in certain circumstances to ‘stop up’ areas of public highway. Once an order is made, the land will cease to be a highway or footpath. Stopping up orders are made if the public highway is now deemed unnecessary or to allow development to take place.

In some instances, the decision to grant an order is one taken by the Department for Transport. But this time it would be under the county council’s jurisdiction. One aggrieved neighbour, Arun Varma explained that the space is well-used.

He continued: “There has never been a point where it was overgrown as someone would come out with their truck and lawn mower and it was done regularly. “Myles has not alluded to who he bought it from. “You would think in light of his position and in the sake of transparency, he would diffuse this by saying where and who he bought it from.

“We cannot find anywhere any information how much it was sold for, who it was sold by, and we have not seen it advertised in any of the estate agents. “There are always planning notifications on lamp-posts when someone in the close applies for house extensions or something like that. But there was nothing this time.

“You would assume he would be quite hot and diligent with this given his position in the council.

“If you have a council representative that is supposed to be the voice of residents into the council, and then you find out he is the very person who has put the application forward, it leaves a very sour taste in your mouth.”

The resident insists there was no comprehension the land was privately owned.

He claims it has been exhausting arguing against an organisation in Runnymede, that does not want to assist or allow residents to better understand the situation.

Mr Willingale was contacted numerous times, but refused to comment.