The public will be asked to submit photos of their favourite Surrey Hills spots as part of a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to extend the boundary of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Plans to protect more of the Surrey Hills could see the area extended to the east to be in line with the Kent Downs, and to the north as far as crossing the London border to join up with a new South London nature reserve.
The plans were discussed at a meeting of the Tandridge District Council planning policy committee, where councillors heard from representatives of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
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The Surrey Hills AONB stretches across a quarter of the county of Surrey going from Farnham in the west to Oxted in the east, and extending south to the Greensand Hills to Haslemere.
It is a broad stretch of land, which then narrows just east of Dorking, the area of the focus of an extension which aims to broaden out this patch. Tandridge has highest area of green belt in the country, and councillors spoke positively about extending the AONB.
Councillor Geoffrey Duck (Conservative, Queens Park) is vice chair on the board, and spoke at Thursday night’s meeting (November 25) following a presentation of the plans.
He said the process had taken a long time, with Natural England dependent on funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
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He said: “I’m just very glad that Tandridge is able to be included in this. It’s perfectly evident that the AONB treatment to the east and to the west of Tandridge is a much thicker fatter band of countryside.
“Certainly the Kent Downs AONB is a nice good wedge of land with the motorway happily running through the middle of it and Sevenoaks plonked in the middle of it.
“So it seems perfectly sensible that it should be reviewed for Tandridge and Reigate and Banstead.”
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The first stage of the process has identified a search area surrounding the current AONB, and people will be asked to submit photos of their favourite spots that they think should be added.
Heather Kerswell, independent chair of the board of the Surrey Hills AONB, said that as along as all local authorities agreed on the candidate areas, and if there was no public inquiry into the areas to be decided, she would hope for a decision in 2023.
She called this an “innovative” process and a chance to engage widely with people to agree on areas to be added that could then be taken to Natural England for consideration. She said this was not a consultation but an engagement process to encourage people to get involved and come to a joint decision.
She added: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to review the boundary. And we won’t get another chance in our lifetimes.”
The evidence-gathering stage, which will include details of the site for uploading pictures, should be launched formally this week.
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