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Council's plan to close Surrey campsite called 'secretive' by locals

Chantry Wood

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Rebecca Curley at 2:18pm 11th January 2019. (Updated at 2:20pm 11th January 2019)

Residents living near Chantry Wood campsite on the North Downs just three miles from Guildford have hit out at plans to close the campsite to the public and turn the area into a forest school as ‘secretive’.

Chantry Wood campsite is owned and run by the Guildford Borough Council and has been going for more than 50 years as a small site for schools, scouts and guides, and the public - and features standard camping amenities such as toilet blocks, fire pits and a barn.

Local residents say they wish they’d been spoken to before the Council came out with proposals for the future of the area.

They believe such a "drastic change of use" for the site should’ve meant they were consulted.

On Tuesday January 8th, the council executive voted to go ahead with plans to lease the site to a Forest School operator.

The council say running it as it has been is no longer commercially viable – and it would cost over £300,000 to upgrade facilities to modern standards. 

They want to make it clear that while the public won’t be able to hire pitches on the campsite anymore, they can still walk around the woodland site. 

In response to concerns, GBC have promised to consult with locals at every stage of the process from now onwards.

They also want to provide a reminder that the decision remains ‘provisional’ at this stage.

Jonathan Bigmore was representing six families whose homes neighbour the area, when he told councillors (ahead of the vote) that "the whole process has been secretive" and they were frustrated with a "complete lack of communication".

Bigmore continued:

"We fully support the principle of getting young people outside and learning about the environment.  Health and education benefits are obvious and should be encouraged.”

However, he went on to say:

"The area is calm and peaceful.  Noise will fundamentally change the area.  Not just for us as neighbours but for hundreds of users.”

“This whole conversation didn’t need to happen here if we had been asked a month ago.”

Chantry Wood sits in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Visitor numbers went down from 1898 in 2016 to 1263 in 2017, while costs have gone up.

Guildford Borough Council say Scouts and Guides are using the area less than they used to and Forest Schools are using it already.

Conservative Councillor David Wright says:

“This proposal will not affect existing public access and it certainly will make better use of what is currently an under-valued facility.  It’s under-valued because it’s somewhat run down and needs extensive development.”

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