Campaign to Protect Rural England Standing up for your countryside

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Campaigning on the front line

Surrey Hills AONB Surrey Hills AONB © Simon Greig/Shutterstock.com

"Life is never easy, or quiet, for the CPRE branch here!" says CPRE Surrey's Andy Smith, referring to the county's position at the frontline of the battle to protect the Green Belt from London's creeping urbanisation.


"In the last couple of years we have fought off schemes for sand and gravel extraction in the Surrey Hills and for a huge and totally unsustainable 'eco-village' in unprotected countryside." Andy is in no doubt that the Government’s proposals for the planning system will only increase the dangers for unprotected countryside and Green Belt in Surrey, but resolves to "fight these plans every step of the way."

It was a less obvious threat on which he cut his campaigning teeth, running the successful campaign to prevent the former home of Lord Beaverbrook being turned into a leisure complex and golf course. The outcome was in no small part due to Andy's skilful use of the media in generating national press coverage and mobilizing local opposition, something he honed during his time as Surrey's press officer. Before taking on that role, Andy worked his way up from volunteering with his local District Group in Mole Valley, and in 2009, around 25 years after first becoming a member, Andy became Surrey branch director.

He certainly hit the ground running by instigating the "Hands Off the Green Belt" initiative, a huge success with front page coverage in the national papers and over 2,000 postcards sent to the Government in protest. The campaign had the perfect combination of a catchy slogan, a simple action, and a unifying theme guaranteed to stir up both press and public – centrally-imposed housing numbers. "I am still delighted when I see a car drive past with one of our CPRE Surrey "Hands Off the Green Belt" car stickers.”

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Being Surrey-born and bred, Andy's determination stems from seeing so much of its tranquillity destroyed since the 1960s, largely thanks to the Heathrow, Gatwick and the M25. Despite many of the towns and villages he grew up with being "wrecked" or joined together by sprawl, Andy insists that it is far from doom and gloom. "Thanks to the Green Belt and AONB we still have some truly wonderful areas of countryside here in Surrey. The view across to Ranmore from Polesden Lacey is in my opinion the very finest view to be had anywhere in England!"

To ensure that potential members and supporters share his sense of optimism, Andy is keen that the branch are engaging in positive campaigning like their forthcoming Surrey Heritage Awards. However, his preparations for launching the scheme have been somewhat distracted by the need to coordinate opposition to planning reform, writing to MPs and contributing articles to the local press.

One distraction he hadn't bargained on was another golf course proposal on the site he fought to save two decades ago. Andy is thankful that one outcome from the previous campaign was that some of the countryside was incorporated into an Area of Great Landscape Value designated by the County Council; he hopes this will help protect the chalk downs, ancient woodland and prime farmland of the beautiful Cherkley landscape, and prove more influential than the well-funded marketing campaign by the developers. Surrey should be grateful they have such a battle-hardened campaigner to stand up for their countryside once again.

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CPRE Surrey

Volunteer stories

Thanks to the Green Belt and AONB we still have some truly wonderful areas of countryside here in Surrey




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