At present the preferred route (preferred by the water company and local council) for the pipeline would have greatest effect on Banstead Heath, in fact, among other things, cutting it in two for the duration of the work and effectively for a long time after.
Banstead Heath is one of four areas of common land that make up Banstead Commons (the others are Banstead and Park Downs and Burgh Heath), it has an area of approximately 300 hectares (750 acres). The Heath lies on the North Downs between Tadworth roundabout and Walton Heath (also common land but with associated golf course) and just reaches the M25.
The area is heavily used by the local populace for walking with and without dogs and horse riding but surprisingly not many naturalists appear to use it as their local patch, which is a pity. There is a dearth of records for both flora and fauna and the Heath has some real surprises for those bothered to look.
The Heath has existed as common land within its current boundaries (give or take a little) for over five hundred years. At the end of the nineteenth century there was some gravel extraction (which was one of the contributing factors that led to the formation of the Banstead Commons Conservators) but otherwise, until WWII, traditional commoners' practices, cutting wood, grazing etc, meant that it was an open area probably mainly of heather and probably gorse. During WWII a large part was used as a military encampment and some was ploughed. After that the whole area began to scrub up and birch colonisation started. It was not until about twenty years ago that significant management began, aimed at improving the Heath both as an amenity and as wildlife habitat. Since then some dramatic improvements have occurred.
The Heath cannot be described as a place of silence, the proximity of the M25 ensures that, but even in the height of summer, it is possible to find a peaceful spot away from the madding crowd just to enjoy your surroundings.
A number of roads fragment the Heath but apart from a gas pipeline on the south-eastern edge, the main body of the Heath (over 200 hectares) has been untouched by construction, cables and pipes.
JUST the place then to carve up with a pipeline, no thought to history, no thought to users, no thought to wildlife and most important, no guarantee that the pipeline will not cause significant long-term damage to the Heath.
Why? For the water company it will save them a lot of money (mainly because they put no value on the Heath), for the council it seems that they wish to avoid the short-term disruption on the A217 and the associated reaction from the public. Interestingly in the only published test of public opinion (Surrey Mirror online poll in July, not scientific) that I know of, a considerable majority supported the route along the A217 rather than crossing the Heath.
A few Priest Hill facts
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