Surrey Countryside Champions - Amie Vaccaro - Founder of Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group
As a lifelong Surrey resident, Amie Vaccaro was concerned to hear of a planning application that was submitted proposing to build a crematorium on an area of land within the Surrey Green Belt. New Pond Farm is a popular countryside destination for the residents of Woodhatch, near Reigate. Worried that they could be set to lose more green belt land from their community, Amie, alongside other residents, decided they wanted to take action and formed the Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group.
CPRE Surrey worked closed with the newly formed group to oppose the application. Thanks to the efforts of both organisations the proposal was refused. This was a huge achievement, but Amie recognises there is still much more to be done to protect Woodhatch from the threat of further applications.
We caught up with Amie to find out why the area means so much to the community and what’s next on their agenda.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Can you summarise who you are and what led to your involvement in halting the recent Crematorium plans?
Thank you, I am Amie Vaccaro, Chairperson of Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group and a resident that cares passionately about where we live. I have lived in Woodhatch, south of Reigate, for the last 22 years, with my husband and two sons. I am very lucky to have benefited from all that Surrey has to offer, especially easy access to the countryside. I became involved in the application to build a crematorium because I was concerned about erosion of green belt in this area, especially as two sites nearby had already been allocated as Sustainable Urban Extensions. I felt I had no option but to get involved and try to prevent the loss of green belt and valued countryside site if possible. The site also includes playing fields and allotments, and it was difficult to justify why this site had been selected. I needed to satisfy myself that the proposal met the high threshold required. Doing nothing was not really an option for me.
Why were you inspired to create the Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group?
The inspiration for Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group came from seeing what other similar groups had managed to achieve across the country. That communities working together can make a difference and this inspired us to form our own group and focus on protection, hence the name preservation group. We drafted our Constitution and set ourselves aims and objectives, not dissimilar to that of a ‘Friend’s of’ group. Now that the immediate planning threat has subsided, we hope to focus more on protecting and preserving the site as it is. Woodhatch is a great place to live, and a very important part of that is the access to the green belt and sites such as New Pond Farm.
Your group has helped protect the Surrey countryside. Why is that important to you all?
Many of our members, including myself, have lived in Surrey our whole lives and have grown up with access to the Surrey countryside. Members’ children and grandchildren have also benefited from having the Surrey countryside available to explore. We want the next generation, and the generation after that, and many more to continue to have this opportunity so close to their homes. We all value the countryside for the same sort of reasons: mental and physical health, the good of the environment, wildlife, family fun, and the natural, unspoilt environment. To be able to walk to a local countryside site or nature reserve and escape from busy day-to-day life is important to many of our members, not just because lockdown has raised awareness, many of us already accessed the countryside and knew the benefit it was having on our own lives even before the pandemic.
What can we as Surrey residents do to help?
Our group’s efforts have been focused on responding to a planning application, and it is only recently that we have been able to focus more on progressing our long-term goals for the site and hopefully long-term protection. However, we are mindful that the risk of further planning applications may not have been eliminated.
Residents in Surrey can help save the countryside in their area by identifying sites they value and may be at risk of development and acting sooner rather than later. Whilst we have shown it is not impossible, it is extremely difficult and hard work to challenge a planning application once it has been submitted. Prevention is much better than cure.
How can people support Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group?
Our achievements to date have only been possible because of the support of many within the local community, and we are thankful to all those who have supported us. We aim to build on our achievements, by raising awareness of the ecological and biodiversity value of the site, securing improvements, where possible, and arranging events the community can get involved in, from litter picking, to scrub clearance and, hopefully, tree planting. People can support us by becoming a member, joining one of our community events, or donating.
You have helped raise awareness of Felland Copse. What are your other favourite Surrey greenspaces to explore?
A really difficult question, as there are so many places to choose from. I prefer to explore the green spaces that are less busy, and slightly off the beaten track. One such place, which is within a reasonable distance to cycle from Woodhatch is Holmwood Common and Four Wents Pond. Once at the top, there is a fantastic view, and we always manage to sit on the wooden seat, often with no one else around. A gentle return cycle, via a countryside pub, just completes the experience.
Please visit our web page for more information.
Find out more about Woodhatch Green Spaces Preservation Group, the work they are doing and how you can get involved on their website, join their Facebook group or follow them on Twitter @GreenWoodhatch.
Discover other Surrey Countryside Champions in our series here.