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Letter: Send AONB Pledge is a Tory Election Illusion Strictly For Unicorn Fans

Published on: 27 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 27 Apr, 2021

From: David Roberts

The age of post-truth politics obliges voters to examine candidate election pledges with extra care.

Readers may therefore be interested in the Conservative promise, in their campaign for the local elections on May 6, to extend the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to include Send.

The promise is significant, since Send is electing not only a Surrey county councillor (as part of Shere Division) but also a Guildford borough councillor following the sad death of GGG Cllr Patrick Sheard.

And who would not want to live in an AONB?

Unfortunately, the pledge is either a pipe-dream or an election gimmick. For a start, Send is miles away from the AONB, a relatively built-up, river-valley community with no connection to the Surrey Hills landscape.

Objectively, Send would never qualify as part of the Surrey Hills AONB. The clue is in the name.

But Send does have some pretty countryside, once protected by its green belt status partly in place to prevent Woking and Guildford from merging. But that is more likely now because the Conservatives took that protection away in the 2019 Guildford Local Plan.

Returning Send to the green belt would be difficult; but when the Plan is reviewed, a change of direction is possible, as the Guildford Greenbelt Group argues.

By contrast, AONB status in itself confers no protection. And it is not encouraging that 42% of all housing approved within AONBs nationally from 2012-17 (14,000 units) is jammed into the South East.

The Conservative candidate for Shere Division is Bob Hughes, a politician with a topical past. Pressed on the Tory pledge in local social media, Mr Hughes hails an upcoming review of AONB boundaries.

He said: “Far from being a gimmick it is a real review which will start shortly. The AONB revised rules would fit Send very well. We need to work together to protect our green areas with a solid basis of protection.

“This is our opportunity…. A big prize if we can achieve this, and with unity we can… We need unity not pointless and destructive point-scoring…

“We should all try to build a consensus. If parts of East Surrey can hope to be in the AONB then perhaps you shouldn’t give up on Send so easily. I certainly won’t.”

Stirring stuff, but is it true?

Actual facts paint a different picture:

  • The AONB submitted proposals for minor boundary extensions to Natural England, the relevant government agency, in 2013. Since then, there has been no appreciable progress. Send does not feature in this submission. The wider 2019 Glover Review of national landscapes does not change this. There are therefore no “revised rules” in prospect that could affect Send.
  • Surrey is the next county in the queue to be considered for AONB boundary changes, but the legal process takes years. Since 1991, there has been precisely one extension (in Suffolk), which took 20 years. In 2019, Defra estimated that to consider proposals already on the table would take 50 years. Send is not on the table.
  • All of the proposed extension areas, including the East Surrey ones Mr Hughes mentions, are hilly, adjacent to the AONB, and designated almost entirely as Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) by local councils. Not Send.
  • The nearest proposed extension to Send is a tiny patch of downs land in East Clandon, five miles away, beyond the A3 and A246.

The workings of the AONB are so opaque and unaccountable it is perfectly possible the Tories think they can swing a miracle through the sort of dodgy back-channels that have attracted recent headlines. Maybe they will “fix it tomorrow”.

But if we take Mr Hughes’s advice and “read the documentation”, we see Send was never on the AONB agenda and has no hope of being.

See, for instance, the map and summary on page 63 of their 2013 evaluation report: The AONB’s fury at government foot-dragging is evident in this 2020 update:

Calling for “unity” and “consensus” echoes vacuous Johnsonite boosterism, it’s a plea to believe in unicorns.

If the Conservatives wanted to protect Send from development, they would not have kicked it and 13 other Guildford villages out of the green belt. They now seem to be claiming faith can move mountains. Tory bad faith won’t move the Surrey Hills to Send.

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Responses to Letter: Send AONB Pledge is a Tory Election Illusion Strictly For Unicorn Fans

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    April 27, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    What’s clear is that the Conservative candidate is scraping around for some sort of headline to make the campaign look good.

    Could they really be that far detached from the village that they’ve missed the horrendous traffic situation in Send, the lack of affordable housing being built, litter, anti-social behaviour, access to open countryside, buses, doctor facilities and so on?

    It’s a scam, AONB review sites were determined years ago. Let’s remember that the Conservative councillors have voted through Blackwell Farm in the Guildford Local Plan. 1,800+ homes to be built on AONB, AGLV and what used to be green belt along the chalk ridge of the Hog’s Back. Blackwell Farm was not assessed for inclusion in the Surrey Hills AONB review by Surrey County Council for some unknown reason.

    Therefore, the land was assessed by an independent land consultant, paid for by Save Hog’s Back, Worplesdon and Compton Parish Councils and around 80% of Blackwell Farm was deemed to be worthy of inclusion in the review. This was inexplicably ignored by Surrey County Council and Surrey Hills AONB Board.

    Anyway, land designation does not save you from development. Writing/pledging things on leaflets at election time doesn’t mean they will happen Can you think of a Conservative Local pledge that has actually come to fruition?

    All I can remember from the last elections were that the Local and National Conservative Party were going to preserve the green belt but what they meant was only the bits they didn’t want to build on.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 28, 2021 at 7:37 am

    Brilliant analysis by Mr Roberts. This once and for all blows Hughes’ claims about getting AONB status for Send right out of the water and shows it for the cynical election ploy that it is.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    April 28, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Another discreditable ‘Jim’ll fix it’ type claim from the distrusted local Conservatives.

  4. Peter Elliott Reply

    April 28, 2021 at 9:01 pm

    The land at Blackwell Farm is, as Lisa Wright says, mostly AONB and AGLV, but not only that, it was specifically mentioned as an “important” feature of the Surrey Hills AONB at its inception in 1958.

    But that didn’t stop the Conservatives proposing to build 1,800 houses on it in their Local Plan, which shows how much they can be trusted regarding anything they may say about the AONB. What is even worse, is that, because of its inclusion in the Local Plan, it cannot now be assessed in the upcoming AONB review.

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