Noirth Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

In 1962 Stansted parish had been included in draft plans for a new area of outstanding natural beauty. When the National Parks Commission drew up detailed boundary plans for the new North Downs AONB, in 1965, they drew the boundaries more tightly and Stansted was excluded. The Parish Council mounted an enthusiastic and concerted campaign against this proposal. Unfortunately, this was ultimately unsuccessful.

The Chairman of the PC, E Unwin, the Clerk, Len Pointon of Fairseat Farmhouse, and Grisell Pateur, of Fairseat House, contacted many people and organisations to put forward Stansted’s case, which was:

  • It was an area of beautiful scenery as evidenced by the large number of hikers, cyclists, horse riders, motorists seen here on all fine weekends and bank holidays.
  • Stansted had previously been in the draft AONB and unless something had changed it should continue to be included.
  • The decisions to allow Vigo Village and New Ash Green to be built showed how much rural spaces near to London were under threat and Stansted should not go the same way

Underlying this was the fact that it was financially advantageous for a Parish to be in an AONB through the grant provisions of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. This Act provided for 75% funding for actions leading to improving derelict land, including removal of buildings, tree planting, and replacement of lost hedgerows, improving public access such as new or repaired gates, stiles, bridges, cost of buying land for public use, employment of wardens.

There was great support for the campaign, most notably from the following:

Sir John Rodgers – local MP
Brigadier H McGregor – KCC Councillor
Charles Todd – of the Committee for the Protection of Rural Kent
Arthur Skeffington – MP who had been involved in the decisions around the Vigo development
Mr Morecroft – of The Ramblers Association who had helped in 1964 on the preservation of Wises Lane footpath
John Unwin – of The Court Lodge, Stansted – E Unwin’s son
Cranley Onslow MP – who lived at The Old Malthouse and was a keen member of Stansted Cricket Club
The Kent Council of Social Service
Malling Rural District Council
Sir George Langley – Taylor of Temple, London

The 2023 boundary of the AONB. Photo courtesy of Kent Downs AONB

The National Parks Commission’s case was that although “there were pockets of attractive country within the Parish of Stansted, the Commission did not feel that the overall quality of the landscape was of quite a sufficiently high standard to justify inclusion”. A very subjective view and one that, ultimately, proved impossible to counteract.

The final decision was made in 1968 by the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Anthony Greenwood, and Stansted was excluded.

The decision must have been a blow at the time and hearts must have sunk. But who knows what the Parish would have looked like if it had been included in the AONB? Some may say, arguably, that it would look not too much different to how it does today. Much of the feared erosion of the rural character has been avoided anyway and the scenery that was regarded as beautiful in 1965 is still as beautiful today. Maybe there would have been some investment in planting schemes…but maybe not.

As always we cannot know what today would be like if past events had turned out differently. It was a good campaign anyway.

Author: Dick Hogbin
Editors: Tony Piper
Acknowledgements: N/A
Last Updated: 17 October 2023