surrey county council

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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What the deuce! Elmbridge residents call for fair play

There has been something of a hoo-ha brewing in Elmbridge recently. Residents have taken to social media to complain about changes to public services. Smelly bins left un-emptied, was the first issue galvanising the public into complaint. Particularly annoying as this occurred during the June heat wave. Residents took to twitter to berate local councillors.

Earlier this month, Amey, the Spanish owned refuse collectors started their new £100 million joint-waste contract in Elmbridge. Due to be rolled out later in Mole Valley, Surrey Heath and Woking, the residents were promised ‘an improved rubbish and recycling collection service.’ A major advantage of the switch was the proposed £2 million saving per annum and no doubt this would have been a factor in gaining the support of Surrey County Council as the waste disposal authority.

Unfortunately, a series of teething problems left food bins festering in the heat and whole cul-de-sacs abandoned due to the difficulty of negotiating the new vehicles between parked cars. Esher and Walton Conservatives were soon onto the scandal demanding that Elmbridge council ‘get a grip on the current appalling situation’ and laying the blame squarely upon the Lib Dem/Resident Association led council:

“Conservative group leader, Cllr Tim Oliver, is clear that the current service failings smacks of poor forward planning by Amey and a failure of the RA/LD Council to hold the contractor to account.”

But wait a minute, Surrey County Council, which is Tory led were in favour of the plan and at the time of the vote (December 2016) at least 21 of the 48 Councillors were Conservative. Cllr Tim Oliver in fact chaired the meeting with Amey and closed down some pretty relevant questions from other Councillors as you can see on this webcast.

A more recent hoo-ha has been caused by the lock-up of public tennis courts and the necessity for the public to pay a yearly subscription of £36 or a £5 one-off booking fee to play on courts which were previously free. This issue even got Judy Murray riled up as evidently this is Andy Murray’s home borough. £25,000 was pledged from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to help secure the sites and advertise the new charges. In good Surrey style there was soon a petition raised and a campaign organised to reverse the plan; a campaign apparently supported by Cllr Tim Oliver, Conservative group leader. Once again the accusing finger points firmly at the Lib Dem/Resident Association administration, totally ignoring the fact that the decision was passed unanimously by all 48 Elmbridge councillors, including Cllr Oliver.

tweet - ethical surrey - tennis

Note how Cllr Tim Oliver uses ‘they’ not ‘we’ in his campaign support letter;

“At a time when there has been huge disruption for many of us to the waste collection service over the past few weeks as a result of new contractors they appointed, I think conceding they were wrong to bring in charges would in some small way be a sign that they are actually listening.”

The next upset waiting in the wings is the proposed closure of recycling facilities across Surrey. In an effort to save another £2 million the council is proposing to close four recycling centres and to restrict access to the others to five days a week instead of seven. This will undoubtedly lead to bigger queues at those centres left open and restrictions for vans, trailers and pickups will encourage fly-tipping; a dreadful eye-sore in the leafy Surrey lanes and an expensive clear-up cost for the cash-strapped council.

Still at the ‘consultation’ stage this has yet to cause a major storm but the proposals have not been well received by the concerned citizens of Elmbridge.

So let’s start joining up the dots on these three unpopular changes to the delivery of public services. What they all have in common is the need to save money. Surrey County Council has seen cuts of £170 million from (Conservative) central funding since 2010 and with a further £100 million to save this year the cuts will continue to come until the money has been found.

This is the austerity agenda. The same agenda that 35,071 (43%) people voted for in June 2017 when they elected Dominic Raab to represent them. He has continually voted for cuts to local councils since 2010. Five more years of austerity was the Manifesto promise and heaped onto the seven previous years it will see virtually no group left untouched. Perhaps people thought it wouldn’t be their tennis courts closed or their bins left un-emptied. Perhaps the cuts would all fall elsewhere, after all there is no ‘magic money tree’ so it had to be done.

Unless you are the 26% who voted other than Conservative in 2017, then you are pretty much getting what you voted for. So that’s fair play then. Well, except of course some of the 35,071 won’t be experiencing the pain of the cuts, just the benefits of a low tax, low public service economy. They live in the gated estates in St. George’s Hill and Weybridge. They don’t worry about smelly bins; they pay someone else to do that. Neither do they queue at the recycling centre on a hot Sunday morning in a car packed to the rafters with rotting debris. They may have their own tennis court or at the very least membership of an exclusive club. Not to mention private health insurance and private education. The Conservative driven low tax economy puts money in their pocket with no down-side. These exclusive areas represent a solid voting block which will help to maintain Elmbridge as a safe Tory seat, but they can’t do it alone.

Perhaps things will change as the majority of us come to realise that for every £1 given back in tax breaks we have to find £10 to pay for the things which used to be free. Or go without or course, that’s what the poor people do. As the cuts continue to bite across Surrey Conservative voters may finally start to understand the socialist mantra – ‘for the many, not the few’.

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