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Opinion: Surrey Hills Should be Designated a National Park

Published on: 21 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 24 Dec, 2018

This is the fourth article in the “second round” of a series of opinion pieces from the political parties and the Independent councillors who currently form Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in the period running up to the next borough council elections in May 2019. All previous articles in the series can be found here.

We are grateful to all the participants for agreeing to take part. Our aim is to allow our readers to hear from local politicians directly and become better informed of the political choice they have…

Cllr Susan Parker

By Susan Parker

Leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG)

A consultation closed on Tuesday (December 18) on the future of our National Parks and AONBs [Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty]. The government is considering if there should be changes to the law, which is not necessarily good news.

Our government is more interested in money than in environmental protection. GGG submitted a response. We think environmental and landscape protection is vital for our future.

To protect us for the future, within GGG we will campaign for the Surrey Hills AONB to become a National Park.  We’d like to have the Surrey Hills National Park as half of Guildford Borough (with protected views over the other half of the borough). We would all benefit.

National Parks have a special place in our hearts. In theory, planning restrictions in the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be as strong as in the National Parks.  In practice, this isn’t necessarily implemented.

National Parks have their own planning authorities; this function isn’t delegated to the local boroughs.  (In the Surrey Hills AONB, planning is delegated to Guildford, Waverley, Reigate & Banstead, Tandridge, Mole Valley and Surrey County Council).

Some who opposed oil drilling at Leith Hill were concerned that the Surrey Hills AONB board, and its constituent planning authorities (especially Surrey), weren’t sufficiently opposed to the proposals for drilling.  Probably no one in Surrey (except for the oil companies) wants to see wholesale drilling across the Weald, but without legal planning powers, the AONB board can only offer warm words.

Concerns have been expressed that – while views into and out of the AONB should be protected – this has not been applied in practice to planning applications or even Guildford’s Local Plan.

The primary duty of National Parks is to:

“Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage,“ of the area. This would be useful for the future. So when we stand for election next year, we will be campaigning for National Park status for the Surrey Hills.

Of course, that’s not our only environmental concern. The Thames Basin Heath SPA covers, roughly, the other half of the borough.  “Special Protection Area” is an EU designation for a site of international importance. If we leave the EU we need to ensure this protection is not lost.

Government legal protections for all areas (including green belt) have been weakened. Previously, green belt could only change boundaries through a Local Plan.  Now, in the latest version of the National Planning Policy Framework, those boundaries can be changed through Neighbourhood Plans too, at any time. That’s not a welcome change.

We need to protect our special open spaces as much as we can and we should lobby to give our own local protected areas the highest possible level of legal protection.

All parties claim to want to protect our countryside and open spaces but they don’t do so when in power.  We’re a local party dealing with local issues. We are the only party who have voted and acted consistently to protect our local environment.

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: Surrey Hills Should be Designated a National Park

  1. John Perkins Reply

    December 22, 2018 at 9:28 am

    SPA designation is embodied in UK law and will remain so unless Parliament troubles to repeal it. The EU law stems from a UK proposal initially put forward by Mrs Thatcher, I think.

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    December 22, 2018 at 11:01 am

    You’d think the existing regulations would be sufficient to protect our countryside, especially when pledges at election time promise to protect our green belt.

    However, in the reality of it, goalposts are moved by the council to fit their agenda of development. Important green belt adjacent to the SPA at Whitmoor is being developed for 140 houses and a care Home in Keens Lane. Remember that the SNCI boundary at Three Farms Meadows was moved when it became a nuisance to the proposed Wisley site and the national protection of the AONB at the Hogs Back has been completely ignored to build a major road through it so Blackwell Farm can be concreted.

    Yes, I would love the Surrey Hills to become a National Park but can we really be sure that our councils will respect that designation or will they just ignore that too?

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