Surrey Sawmill Update

An Update on the Norbury Park Sawmill from Cllr Clare Curran – SCC District Councillor for Bookham and Fetcham West.

This afternoon, Cllr Tim Hall and I had the opportunity to discuss the decision to close the Norbury Park sawmill with Surrey County Council’s countryside officers and to ask them the questions that many of you have asked us. We are happy to share the main points of the discussion with you as follows;
  • SCC approved the new model for management of the Countryside Estate on 31 March 2020 and the Council took over responsibility for visitor services, woodland management and property management on 1 April 2020.
  • The decision to close the sawmill was a joint decision between SCC and SWT. This decision was not taken lightly and only after extensive work was undertaken to look at alternative solutions, including detailed financial analysis and a review by an external expert.
  • During discussions with SWT on the new model for managing the countryside estate, SWT said they would like to focus on biodiversity and would not continue to run the sawmill. SCC undertook to review its commercial position and the options available. This has now been concluded and the decision to close was reluctantly agreed between the two parties.

Over the last 9 years the sawmill has made an average loss of £13,550 per annum. However, there have been annual losses greater than this; one year it was around £73,000. These figures do not take into account the amount that was also spent on management, development and communications.

In addition, an initial outlay of around £280,000 would be needed for SCC to take over the sawmill – this would be to purchase the assets from SWT who own them and to make investment required on site in maintenance and safety. There would also need to be more staff to increase sales and business development.
 
The Council would be open to receiving proposals for the use of the site by another sawmill business operator, by volunteers or a community-based business. This option would require a large upfront financial investment.

The site can accommodate more than one business. SCC has prospective tenants who have asked for space there – there is already a charcoal burner, and interest has been expressed by a carpenter, an ironmonger, coppicers and two traditional local Arboricultural skills providers who would like to use the site to support their woodland management at Norbury Park.

The Council is optimistic about being able to expand the range of opportunities for woodland and rural crafts on site and combined with low-impact visitor services, to maintain a similar level of employment on site.

A paramount consideration will be the very sensitive nature of the surrounding area and accordingly SCC will be extremely careful to control and ideally reduce the level of heavy goods and other traffic across Norbury Park and to reinforce car parking only on the edges of the park.

We understand that many people will be disappointed with the decision to close the sawmill after so many years but we hope that you will understand the unwillingness to use council tax payers’ money artificially to support a business which is clearly not sustainable.

If you do have questions that have not been answered here then please contact either of us on:

clare.curran@surreycc.gov.uk or tim.hall@surreycc.gov.uk and we will do our very best to assist you.
There has been a statement issued by Surrey County Council, which you may read on this link;

A petition to save the Sawmill has been submitted to SCC by A.Bainbridge. If you would like to sign the petition please click on the button below. (External link)

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