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‘Once in a Lifetime’ Chance to Extend Surrey’s AONB Leaves GBC Councillor Feeling Excluded

Published on: 1 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 3 Dec, 2021

Surrey Hills at Dorking

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

and Martin Giles

The public is to be asked to submit photos of their favourite Surrey Hills spots as part of a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to extend the boundary of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Plans to protect more of the Surrey Hills could see the area extended to the east to be in line with the Kent Downs, and to the north as far as crossing the London border to join up with a new South London nature reserve.

The plans were discussed at a meeting of the Tandridge District Council planning policy committee, where councillors heard from representatives of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) board.

But the leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group at GBC, is unhappy accusing others of holding “behind closed doors discussions” without the involvement of elected representatives.

The Surrey Hills AONB covers a quarter of the county, stretching east to west from Oxted to Farnham and extending south to the Greensand Hills and Haslemere.

It is a broad stretch of land, which then narrows just east of Dorking, the area of the focus of an extension which aims to broaden out this patch. Tandridge has the highest area of green belt in the country, and councillors spoke positively about extending the AONB.

Councillor Geoffrey Duck (Conservative, Queens Park) is vice-chair on the board, and spoke at Thursday night’s meeting following a presentation of the plans.

He said the process had taken a long time, with Natural England dependant on funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “I’m just very glad that Tandridge is able to be included in this. It’s perfectly evident that the AONB treatment to the east and to the west of Tandridge is a much thicker, fatter band of countryside.

“Certainly the Kent Downs AONB is a nice good wedge of land with the motorway happily running through the middle of it and Sevenoaks plonked in the middle of it.

“So it seems perfectly sensible that it should be reviewed for Tandridge and Reigate and Banstead.”

Three of the core members of the Surrey Hills AONB Board Image – Surrey Hills Board website

The first stage of the process has identified a search area surrounding the current AONB, and people will be asked to submit photos of their favourite spots that they think should be added.

Heather Kerswell, independent chair of the board of the Surrey Hills AONB, said that as long as all local authorities agreed on the candidate areas, and if there was no public inquiry into the areas to be decided, she would hope for a decision in 2023.

She called this an “innovative” process and a chance to engage widely with people to agree on areas to be added that could then be taken to Natural England for consideration. She said this was not a consultation but an engagement process to encourage people to get involved and come to a joint decision.

She added: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to review the boundary. And we won’t get another chance in our lifetimes.”

The evidence-gathering stage should be launched formally this week. Parish councils are still understood to be waiting to hear how they should make their submissions.

GBC Leader Joss Bigmore says: “The Surrey Hills AONB is a great asset to our borough and much-loved by many of our residents and visitors.

“Much of the land around the AONB is already recognised as being valued by the community and we welcome any effort to consider further areas worthy of the protection that AONB status gives it. We look forward to the outcomes of the review.

“We encourage residents to get involved by taking part in the upcoming consultations being run by Natural England with support from the Surrey Hills AONB Board.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford), whose ward includes AONB designated land, was less positive. He said: “I have been closely following a promised review of the AONB boundary for some 20 years.

“The review should cover all of Surrey and especially any countryside adjoining the current AONB and AGLV (Area of Great Landscape Value). The area of study by the appointed consultants should be without restriction.

“Being the GBC representative on the Surrey Hills AONB Partnership Board along with fellow Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send), who is the GBC representative on the main Surrey Hills AONB Board, it could be assumed that we would be right in there in ensuring this once in a lifetime opportunity is well and thoroughly carried out.

“Sadly neither of us have been invited to participate in what can only appear to be behind closed doors discussions.  Meetings have taken place between GBC and also with GBC planning officers but at no time have the elected GBC reps been invited. Subsequently, the original Surrey Hills AONB areas of study have been changed.

“The key authority is Natural England and they have appointed a consultancy to carry out an appraisal, though they have been presented with a map covering areas of search. However, Parish Councils and residents can submit areas they think are worthy and meet AONB criteria.

“I would urge people to participate in the consultation. It will be interesting to see if the consultants, Resources for Change (R4C), a fact I only picked up in a conversation with a Surrey Hills officer on a different subject, actually incorporate additional areas following such submissions.

“Surrey has many beautiful areas of countryside that should have AONB status. Any development within the AONB would need to be sympathetic to and comply with the AONB management plan.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Surrey and I hope that as many parish councils, resident associations and individuals participate as possible.”

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test One Response to ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Chance to Extend Surrey’s AONB Leaves GBC Councillor Feeling Excluded

  1. Keith Kerr Reply

    December 2, 2021 at 7:58 am

    Is this another scheme to allow developers to build on the countryside, common land, green belt and virgin land? What value will be given to the land not chosen to have special value?

    Can this land be given to developers, or should we do the sensible thing and make sure its special value is recognised and it is designated appropriately?

    Climate change is the result of our greed and not wanting to accept the science. We are all guilty of allowing the destruction and pollution of the natural world.

    Please can we forget about making money and do the right thing?

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