On Tuesday 8th May, the House of Commons was the venue for distinguished guests to celebrate 60 years since the Surrey Hills was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on 8th May 1958. Hosted by The Rt Hon John Bercow MP in the State Rooms at Speaker’s House, guests included Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Minister for Rural Affairs, Michael More-Molyneux, the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey and the Kier Group, who sponsored the reception.
Lord Gardiner, Defra Minister for National Parks, said: “The Surrey Hills was one of the first landscapes in England to be protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and I am delighted to celebrate its 60th year.
“With its spectacular views, beautiful villages and extensive woodlands, this landscape is a true testament to the vision of conservation and environmental enhancement that underpins our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”
The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of 46 nationally protected landscapes in the UK, having equal landscape status and protection to a National Park. The Surrey Hills was designated on 8 May 1958, which makes it the first AONB in southern England to be designated (the first was The Gower in 1956). The Surrey Hills AONB stretches across a quarter of the county of Surrey and includes the chalk slopes of the North Downs from Farnham in the west to Oxted in the east and extends south to the deeply wooded Greensand Hills which rise in Haslemere. The Surrey Hills Board is a Joint Management Committee which is funded by Defra, the National Trust, Surrey County Council and the local authorities within the Surrey Hills area.
David Wright, OBE Chairman of the Surrey Hills Board, commented: “Our work to maintain this special part of the South East needs to be more focused than ever, as we face the many challenges to conserve and enhance the Surrey Hills for future generations. The Speakers House at the heart of Government is a fitting place to celebrate the value that our politicians, visitors and residents place on this nationally protected landscape.”
Being close to London, and well served by trains and roads, Surrey came under huge pressure between the First and Second World Wars for new housing. Since planning legislation was then very limited, ribbon development along roads was fast spreading outwards into the countryside. The prospective sale of Norbury Park, near Leatherhead, for speculative development in 1930 brought matters to a head. Planning powers would be unable to prevent it, so Surrey County Council’s Alderman Willcocks decided to buy it and then offered it to the county council at the price he paid. However, there was uncertainty over the powers of the county council to buy land for such purposes. So clauses were added to a Bill going through Parliament and the Surrey County Council Act received Royal Assent on 31st July 1931. This allowed the county to buy land to protect it from development. After the Second World War, under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the National Parks Commission began work to designate National Parks and the then 37 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In May 1958, the Surrey Hills was designated, the first in the South East of England and of particular significance because of its closeness to London.
Mitesh Solanki, Service Director for Kier, who sponsored the event said: “The Surrey Hills is a very special part of Surrey and Kier is committed to playing its part in keeping it special. We are Surrey County Council’s preferred contractor to improve services and safety for road users over much of the Surrey Hills AONB and Kier’s sustainability strategy requires that we take full account of the environmental, social and economic impacts of our activities. In our work we are mindful of the need to protect and, where possible, enhance the environment of the Surrey Hills.”