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The real Surrey Hills! Why now is the time to protect our local countryside

PUBLISHED: 21:18 21 February 2014 | UPDATED: 21:18 21 February 2014

Surrey Hills Society

Surrey Hills Society

Archant

The chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Chris Howard, reports on why now is the time to protect our local countryside...

The big debate in the Surrey Hills over the last few months has been whether it is acceptable to reduce some of the planning laws used to protect the area, to enable more housing to be built.

The Government has stated that the Green Belt needs reviewing and that housing within protected landscapes like Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks is desirable.

Meanwhile, all the local councils across the country are being asked to develop new Local Plans. They have been tasked with finding land to develop thousands of new homes that the Government says are needed to provide housing for our growing population.

Guildford Borough Council’s attempts to consult with the public on whether it would be acceptable to remove villages like Shere, Gomshall, Chilworth and West Horsley from the Green Belt was met with anger by many local people. Residents formed action groups, petitions were raised and even a demonstration outside the council offices occurred on the last day of the consultation.

In the far west of the county, Waverley Borough Council has had its new Local Plan rejected by the Planning Inspectorate three times, as a result of trying to juggle local residents’ desire to protect the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) while satisfying the Government’s quota for housing.

Over in Reigate and Banstead, at the last local elections, new champions for the Green Belt emerged in the form of the Green Party and independent residents’ group candidates, several of whom gained seats.

For my part, one thing I do know is that the Surrey Hills AONB is unique – a little rural oasis on the edge of one of the most famous cities in the world. Something that was created by visionaries, just after World War Two, to give a green lung to the sprawling metropolis of London. This need is even greater today.

I hope the politicians will get the balance right between housing and the environment and will recognise that the Surrey Hills AONB is still worthy of protection. It needs to be there, not least, so that the generations who follow us are able to enjoy its natural beauty too.

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If you would like to join the Surrey Hills Society, visit surreyhillssociety.org

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