Surrey Wildlife Trust to make county’s countryside estate self-financing by 2021

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In the next year, the council plans to make savings from its countryside budget of £300,000

By Dorking Advertiser  |  Posted: June 14, 2015

The Surrey Countryside Estate, a vast expanse of greenery maintained for peaceful enjoyment, includes patches of land like Norbury Park, located between Leatherhead and Dorking, opposite Box Hill.

The Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) has managed the estate, which is owned by the council, since 2002, when the two parties entered into a 50-year agreement whereby the land and buildings were leased to the trust.

But with concerns growing about falling revenues for the council to invest in the estate, it is hoped councillors and trust bosses can come up with a business plan to generate income, while allowing the council’s financial contribution to the estate to drop to zero in the next six years.

It is however expected that the new deal will include an agreement for the distribution of funds in the future.

On top of the 6,206 acres of land under the ownership of Surrey County Council, another 2,538 acres is managed under access agreements, according to a council report.

The estate is built of five farms, woodland, heathland, downland and a number of other residential and commercial properties.

In the next year, the council plans to make savings from its countryside budget of £300,000, including a £200,000 reduction of support to the SWT.

Included in the new management plans for the estate are proposals on how to improve visitor facilities and how to attract a wider range of visitors in a bid to increase revenue.

According to a draft copy, Surrey County Council will pay £759,000 towards the estate in the next year, a reduction from £859,000 this year.

After that, the trust will present proposals to the council for contributions for 2016/17, and then every other year for the next five years.

Surrey Wildlife Trust spokesman Sophie Mariner said: “Surrey Wildlife Trust and Surrey County Council are working together to enhance visitor experience and ensure maximum value for money for taxpayers.

“With public funding under considerable pressure, SWT are already selling wood and Christmas trees, and over the next 18 months will be looking at the possibility of generating income in areas such as filming, sponsorship, catering and even holidays.

“It is anticipated that these changes will be of benefit to countryside users through the provision of improved visitor facilities and the visitor experience.”

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