Threats to Surrey countryside are highlighted at campaign meeting

Surrey’s countryside is under threat from new waves of housebuilding, airport expansion and mineral extraction – despite the Government’s assurances about safeguarding the Green Belt.
This was the message for members of CPRE Surrey at their annual meeting on 27 April held at the Abraham Dixon Hall in Leatherhead.
Speakers at the meeting highlighted the dangers to the Surrey countryside from growing development pressures and from the Government’s policy of promoting economic growth even at the expense of the environment.
Members from all over the county attended the meeting where they heard speeches from leading countryside campaigners.
Dame Sarah Goad, CPRE Surrey Branch President, said that England was getting more crowded and pressures on limited space were growing, making CPRE’s role more vital than ever.
Tim Murphy, the Surrey Branch Chairman, paid tribute to CPRE’s network of district groups, and said that local grass-roots action was essential in resisting unnecessary and inappropriate development.
He said that the Coalition Government’s changes to the planning system – the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – had not been as bad as had been feared, but CPRE still had “grave concerns” about some aspects of the NPPF.
Surrey countryside must be protected and valued for its own sake, Tim Murphy said, whether or not it was in the Green Belt or the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The NPPF, despite having been “watered down” from its original draft version, still contained the potentially dangerous “presumption in favour of sustainable development” which could be used by developers to justify new housing schemes.
Jack Straw, Planning Policy Manager of Mole Valley District Council, said that there were some important changes in the NPPF including the requirement that local councils considering planning applications should take into account the commercial viability of a development as well as other factors.
He also said that the NPPF had a strong commitment to high-quality building design, and that it made Local Plans “the heart of the planning system”.
However, he was concerned about the extent to which Government policy was driven by “the economic growth agenda”.
Both Tim Murphy and Jack Straw said they felt the NPPF could lead to a lot of legal challenges and arguments.
Brendon Sewill, Chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC), told the meeting that it was due to the old planning system that the Surrey countryside close to Gatwick Airport had been protected, but this might change with the “presumption for sustainable development” and the fact that the Government’s aviation policy, to be announced in a few weeks’ time, looked likely to allow further expansion of aviation.
The problem was not just the possible building of new runways, said Brendon Sewill, but all their associated infrastructure, for which a large amount of land would be needed.
The airport’s owners were already “eyeing up” the Surrey farmland and villages adjacent to Gatwick, he said.
Tim Harrold, Vice-President of CPRE Surrey and Chairman of CPRE’s Guildford group, explained that the Government at long last had declared gypsy and traveller sites to be “inappropriate development” for the Green Belt – but he had concerns about the nationally-imposed requirements for gypsy site provision and the problems that arise when local authorities are unable to meet these requirements.
The view of CPRE Surrey, he said, was that any new traveller sites should be on previously developed (“brownfield”) land in urban areas, and not in the countryside or rural areas.
The meeting also heard presentations from representatives of the Cherkley Campaign, about the fight to prevent the Cherkley estate near Leatherhead from being developed into a luxury golf and leisure complex, and from the Leith Hill Action Groupabout the campaign to stop drilling by an oil company at Bury Hill Wood near Coldharbour.
To find out more about CPRE’s campaigns, please contact the Surrey Branch Director, Andy Smith, on 01372 362720, email cpre.surrey@btconnect.com.

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