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SaveNC propose the setting up of a charitable trust, the ‘Friends of Newlands Corner’.
The group considers the new option to be both viable and in the best interests of Newlands Corner and the visiting public. The outline paper comes after months of public protest at the proposals put forward by Surrey County Council (SCC) and Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT).
The county council currently pays SWT to manage the Newlands Corner site and the rest of the council’s Countryside Estate. It is hoped to make the estate self funding by 2021.
The wildlife trust, apart from making efficiencies under an agreed financial formula, are, with the council, looking at ways to generate more income from the Countryside Estate. This includes income-generating and commercial measures on the Newlands Corner site.
Among the proposals put forward are the introduction of up to ten large play structures, parking charges and, later, a new, very large cafe, visitors centre and “shopping opportunities”.
A county council spokesman said: “We’re listening to Save Newlands Corner’s proposals – we have another meeting with them in a couple of weeks – and have been discussing our plans to ensure everyone enjoys the Surrey countryside we all value while ultimately making it self financing given the huge strains on our budgets from rising demand for services like adult social care.”
But John Oliver of SaveNC said: “Other than a facelift to the toilets and the all-access trail, the public has overwhelmingly demonstrated that they want Newlands Corner to stay as it is – free from commercialisation and of all artificial play structures.
“Nearly 11,000 people have signed a petition against the proposals, hundreds have made their views known at public meetings and councillors at county and borough level have received hundreds of letters against the proposals.”
Campaigners have challenged SCC’s business case figures, which, they claim, are now being shown to have been incorrect. The proposed parking charges were based on 122,000 vehicles visiting the site each year.
This figure was hotly disputed by the campaigners and a recent public question to the SCC Cabinet led to an admission that a recent count showed 255,000 vehicles used the car park between Feb 2015 and Jan 2016.
SCC and SWT have also claimed that it costs £157,000 to manage Newlands Corner and, it is understood, would continue to do so.
Mr Oliver said: “After months of seeking a breakdown of this figure SCC has provided some detail of current costs amounting to £85,000 and said that the balance, £72,000, was on management and overheads.
“It has also emerged that future costs appear to have shot up to around £310,000. Managing the parking charges alone will cost an additional £59,000.”
Campaigners say it has become increasingly unclear where SCC and SWT will make sufficient profit to pay for the rest of the Countryside Estate and have written to SCC for further clarification of its figures.
Save NC have also complained to the monitoring officer at the county council about “poor handling” of the project. SCC has now confirmed that the chairman of the member conduct panel is investigating the complaint.
The campaign group say they are confident that by setting up a ‘Friends’ charity trust, Newlands Corner can be kept very much as it is, with only minor changes – for instance providing some indoor seating for cafe users in the visitor’s centre and an extended cafe awning for outdoor users.
Under the SaveNC proposal, all of the costs associated with the introduction of play structures (£210,000), parking charge equipment and management, loan repayments, and increased staffing would be abandoned .
Much of the work SWT is paid to do would be carried out by an unpaid board of trustees, a volunteer network and contractors, thereby avoiding most of the ongoing staff overheads that the wildlife trust has to bear.
The ‘Friends’ document proposes that, in at least the first two years of the existence of the charity, SCC should provide funding that would have been paid to SWT anyway.
This, they say, would enable the ‘Friends’ to establish itself before taking over the full management of the site. Thereafter, all funding would come from member subscriptions, donations, legacies, available grants, and fund-raising events.
The document also outlines ideas for promoting the educational and play benefits of the natural environment that children have experienced for generations at Newlands Corner.
To read the proposal document, visit www.savenewlandscorner.com. SaveNC say they would welcome the public’s views on the general concept of a ‘Friends of Newlands Corner’ and any initial expressions of interest in helping the charity, if it gets the go ahead.
The Surrey Wildlife Trust were invited to comment.