Newlands Corner: commercialisation of the countryside

Newlands Corner is a natural area of outstanding beauty set in the Surrey Downs just off the A25, and owned by the Albury Estate. Thanks to an agreement between the landowners and Surrey County Council, the public have had access to this site since the 1970s. Maintained by Surrey Wildlife Trust on behalf of SCC this beauty spot is a very popular place to visit. It covers approximately 255 acres of open chalk downland and peaceful woodlands. The woodlands are made up of a mixture of deciduous trees like oak and birch and evergreen yew, some of which are hundreds of years old. Shady pathways meander through woods that shelter roe deer as well as being home to green woodpeckers, nuthatches and tawny owls.

I began visiting Newlands corner over thirty years ago when my four children were small. We spent hours walking the meandering trails, stopping to climb suitable trees on the way or playing hide and seek. At other times we picnicked out on the open hillside, taking in the amazing view. Thirty years on I am visiting Newlands Corner with my grandchildren who love it just as much as my children did. I also regularly visit Newlands Corner with my art group to attempt to paint the landscape spread out in the valley below.

I can’t emphasise enough just how wonderful Newlands Corner is. Unchanging, beautiful and a haven for wildlife. It’s not just me who feels this – an estimated 550,000 people visit Newlands Corner every year from all walks of life. With a good size car park, a burger stand with outside picnic tables, a small visitors centre, a little play area and toilets, it caters for every need.

Of course a place like Newlands Corner needs to be maintained and cared for, which is done by Surrey Wildlife Trust. Such maintenance covers activities such as litter picking, clearing paths, dog bins, tree safety and car park maintenance.

So what has changed?

Surrey County Council have decided that Newlands Corner needs upgrading so that the site is more accessible and attractive to people of all ages and abilities. This is a fair point, as everyone from babies in pushchairs to the disabled in wheelchairs should be able to enjoy Newlands Corner. They also plan to refurbish the toilets, another good point as the toilets are tired and run down. Plans also include more benches, again a worthwhile change.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, they also plan to impose parking charges, as detailed below.

Charging details:

  • A 20 minute period with no charge
  • £1 per hour to a maximum of £4 for 4 hours or more
  • An annual season ticket for regular visitors costing £40
  • No charge for Blue Badge holders when parking in the marked disabled bays

As this appears to have been passed, we will soon see parking meters installed on the site.

As well as charging to park SCC also plan to install:

  • 6 timber and rope play structures with metal fixing bolts. Each play structure is to be located in existing woodland clearings, adjacent to the existing Easy Access trail.
  • 8 brass rubbing and magnifying posts placed at different locations also on the Easy Access trail

Parking fees is part of a bigger plan to turn Newlands Corner into a ‘visitors attraction’ that will make money. In these days of austerity it seems ridiculous that SCC are prepared to use funds to install parking meters, when the money could be better used to fund the NHS or to keep libraries open. Will they make their money back from parking fees? Not necessarily. A lot of people who appreciate somewhere beautiful to visit that is free will stop visiting altogether. The whole point of Newlands Corner is that it is free. You can spend money if you want (I like nothing nicer than a cheese burger and chips for lunch) but the choice is yours. Charging to park could also possibly increase problems in the local area as visitors decide to park outside Newlands Corner and walk in.

Assuming that traffic does increase as a result of commercialising Newlands Corner, and people are prepared to pay the parking fees, the impact on the A25 could be horrendous. The entrance on the hill is already an accident waiting to happen and increased traffic will just add to the risk. Consequently more money will have to be spend on a road safety scheme to slow traffic past the entrance and exit to Newlands Corner. And while the changes will be funded separately by the Guildford Local Committee and not the SCC, it is still money that could be better used elsewhere.

I am also disappointed that SCC feel the need to install play structures of any kind at Newlands Corner. The whole point of Newlands Corner is that generations of children have learnt to enjoy the outdoors without the need of play structures. If visitors really need this kind of entertainment they can go to Alice Holt.

There is a lot of opposition to the commercialisation of Newlands Corner, a lot of which SCC have chosen to ignore. The Save Newlands Corner group have fought long and hard to save Newlands Corner, and continue to do so. Their site has in depth information on just what SCC has proposed and how they plan to expedite it. They need the support of us all.

Newlands Corner is not a money making venture, it is a place of tranquillity where nature can be seen at it’s best. We don’t want it turned into  a ‘visitor attraction’ that we can’t afford except on the odd occasion. We don’t want parking meters and pay-and-display signs marring the view. We don’t want or need artificial play structures along the trails. We just want Newlands Corner to be properly maintained and left exactly as it is.

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Sites to visit for the full picture from all sides.

Save Newlands Corner

Surrey County Council

Surrey Wildlife Trust

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