Our local councils have not been robust in defending our countryside

Press announcement 3 December 2014


Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) calls for the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to be redesignated as a National Park.


The constitution of the AONB has recently changed. It is now directly controlled by the same councils that have aggressively viewed the Green Belt as an area for development.


GGG considers that this area is too important and too precious to be left to local councillors. Our view is that some have already demonstrated in their local boroughs that they cannot be trusted.  We need a board that runs this area in order to protect it.


The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty runs across the North Downs from Oxted to Haslemere– where it becomes adjacent to England’s newest National Park – the South Downs National Park.  It has countryside of national significance which includes areas like Box Hill, the Hog’s Back or the Devil’s Punchbowl, many other famous beauty spots like Leith Hill, Newlands Corner or Silent Pool; and many historic locations, sites of special scientific interest or wildlife importance. It is internationally famous because of the Olympic cycle routes which have triggered more frequent cycling events along the same or similar routes. It is also a playground for Londoners – cyclists, walkers, campers, riders come here for days out – and a breath of fresh air.  Many teenagers have their first experience of serious walking by completing Duke of Edinburgh excursions along the Surrey Hills.

However, “AONB” is a designation that is not universally familiar; we have been told that some councillors were not aware of the designation before becoming councillors.  But everyone understands what a National Park does.

Our AONB is perhaps the most threatened such area in the country.  It skirts the M25, in an area with high housing values, between Heathrow and Gatwick and en route to the South Coast at Portsmouth and Southampton.  It is an hour from London or less; and property values are high. It is besieged by developers. Our local councils have not been robust in defending our countryside.