Surrey Hills Society on the growing property development pressures in Surrey’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Protestors on a planning demonstration in Guildford

Protestors on a planning demonstration in Guildford - Credit: Archant

This month, chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Christine Howard, looks at the development pressures on the Surrey Hills AONB

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2016


The Surrey Hills has long been recognised as a beautiful place to live. The reason it is such a green and attractive location is because much of Surrey was awarded Green Belt status under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. Over a quarter of Surrey was then designated as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB) in 1958. Author Bill Bryson described this legislation as “the most intelligent, far-sighted, thrillingly and self-evidently successful land management policy any nation has ever devised.”

The attractiveness of the Green Belt has made Surrey one of the most desirable places in the world to live. Unfortunately, this has also made it one of the most expensive places to live. Couple this with the massively expanding population of London, and the associated demand for more housing, and it means that our Green Belt and our AONB are now under threat. Surrey’s high property values and the significant financial rewards from development within this restricted area are putting enormous pressure on this finite resource.

Pick up any newspaper and you will see local pressure groups campaigning to stop large-scale housing developments in their area. Turn on the TV and you will hear about the massive population growth in London. Turn on the radio and you will hear the latest problems on Surrey’s congested roads. The situation is bleak and challenging.

Differing roles

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Many people ask me why the Surrey Hills Society and the officers at the AONB unit are not more vocal about planning applications in the area. And the answer is simple – we are not a campaigning group. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is a countryside charity that does champion the protection of the Green Belt and AONBs and National Parks. They do an amazing job, using many local volunteers who are often retired planning officers with expert knowledge in this field.

The role of the Surrey Hills organisation is quite different. We develop and agree a statutory management plan for the AONB, which is adopted by all relevant councils. Within it is objectives around practical enhancement and conservation projects, educational and promotional activities, encouraging businesses (via Surrey Hills Enterprises) and residents (via the Surrey Hills Society) to get involved with our special countryside here in Surrey.

We do have our own planning adviser, Clive Smith, who although quietly unassuming is an incredibly well-respected planning consultant. He used to be the head of planning at Mole Valley District Council. His role is to advise and influence planning officers and committees through training and also by inputting into the emerging ‘Local Planning’ documents. He also comments on the larger planning applications affecting the AONB and gives pre-application advice to developers and land-owners. In addition, Clive gives detailed comments on over 200 planning applications a year. This number has doubled since 2009 and yet, worryingly, government funding to all AONBs is being reduced year on year.

Using volunteers, the Surrey Hills Society also takes on the role of educating residents, planning authorities and politicians. It produces leaflets, attends fetes and shows during the summer and provides talks about the Surrey Hills to organisations around the south-east.

The CPRE commissioned a poll last year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Green Belt. The poll showed that 64% of the public wanted to see its continued protection. Through the combined efforts of local pressure groups, the CPRE (among other charities) and the Surrey Hills AONB unit, I hope Surrey’s Greenbelt and AONB will be there for my children and their children to enjoy for years to come.

• If you would like to join the Surrey Hills Society, or if you are a business join Surrey Hills Enterprises, find out more by visiting the website at


Did you know?

The Land Registry House Price Index for March 2016 quotes the average detached house price in Surrey as £717k

The population of London grows by 2,000 people every week

800,000 people now commute across Surrey’s Green Belt every day

1.5 million people live within 10km of the Surrey Hills AONB


Surrey Hills Society write a monthly column called Head for the Hills for Surrey Life magazine

Pick up August’s Surrey Life magazine for the first Rural Ramblings, a new column by CPRE Surrey specifically discussing Green Belt issues in our county

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