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Letter: We Have a Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Lack of Protection

Published on: 29 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 29 Apr, 2021

From: John Oliver

In response to: Send AONB Pledge is a Tory Election Illusion Strictly For Unicorn Fans

I don’t wish to get embroiled into the politics here. But I can confirm the general thrust of this position. The chances of Send being part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are zero. That the AONB has very little protection is also true.

The purpose of the AONB designation is to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area”. But although the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gives local authorities the “power to take all such action as appears to them expedient for the accomplishment of the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area”, they are under no compulsion to exercise that power.

When considering planning applications, authorities must “have regard” to the purpose of the AONB but can ignore it. The only real protection is given to individual sites within the AONB intended to protect flora and fauna, eg Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Even the AONB board, which draws up the AONB Management Plan, has no real teeth. It simply reports to the local authorities, has minimal staff and very little money. The local authorities have not increased its funding for years.

In response to my public question about why at its last board meeting, the chairman said they feared to ask for more money from the local authorities in case they reduced the amount they were giving.

It gets worse. For years, the Surrey Hills AONB board has been operating in an unconstitutional way. Only at the last two board meetings, through the intervention of Save Surrey Countryside (of which I am a member), that the public has been allowed to exercise our democratic right to attend board meetings and ask questions.

We have also submitted a paper setting out numerous complaints about the governance of the AONB which has been operating outside its own constitution and the Surrey County Council standing orders with which it is supposed to comply.

As a result, the county council director for the Environment is conducting a root and branch review of governance. We think further steps are needed to review the AONB’s interaction with the Surrey Hills “Family” of which it is part and the activities in which they are involved.

The “Family” also includes Surrey Hills Enterprises, the Surrey Hills Trust Fund and the Surrey Hills Society. Its relationship with the first two concerns us.

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test 4 Responses to Letter: We Have a Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Lack of Protection

  1. David Roberts Reply

    April 29, 2021 at 11:38 am

    The Tories have today repeated on Facebook the misleading claim that the AONB is about to be extended to Send. Have they no shame?

  2. Adam Aaronson Reply

    April 29, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    The crib-sheet soundbites that are supposed to fall gracefully off the tongues of candidates like Bob Hughes epitomise the new Tory party call-centre politics, where you are only to read from a script and are not supposed to use any independent thought.

    It’s rather unfair on poor old Mr Hughes, though. Someone in Conservative central office must have told him to chant AONB as if it was a panacea for the local plan.

    He should have done his research locally before he latched his colours to this mast, because he’s ended up looking ridiculous, all the more so because he continues to chant the AONB mantra although it has been completely discredited.

  3. Peter Elliott Reply

    May 2, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks to John Oliver for a very informative letter. It helps to explain something that has perplexed me for years, and that is, why could the AONB board apparently do nothing to stop the proposed commercial housing development at Blackwell Farm, which, according to page 7 of the history of the Surrey Hills AONB, produced by the Surrey Hills Society, includes land which was considered an “important” feature of the AONB, at its inception in 1958.

  4. Bob Hughes Reply

    May 11, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    Sniping at me for wanting to influence the review of the AONB didn’t work in the election and it won’t do anything now.

    Of course, we may not achieve the protection we seek, but I will try, and they could join the campaign. If we are unified we have a chance of influencing the review. If we don’t try we certainly will achieve nothing.

    Bob Hughes is the Conservative county councillor for Shere

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