We are very excited finally to have reached the opening date. To get to this point has taken several years. From drawing up initial plans to navigating the planning process, from construction to installing utilities and every stage a new challenge for us. Here’s a short summary of our journey.
PARK PIT SINCE 1990
Quarrying at Park Pit ended in 1990 and between 1990 and 2014 it served as the processing plant for sand being extracted from Tapwood Pit. During this time the artesian water level was maintained at c. 50m AOD with the use of pumps to the Shag Brook. At the same time, operator Hanson was managing a minerals restoration plan around the lake with additional planting. In August 2014 the last sand was processed and over the next 6 months Hanson removed all the key parts of the plant.
The water levels were then raised in the main lake from 50m AOD to 52.5m AOD and the area that once housed the processing plant was flooded to create our lagoon. Up to this time, Hanson landscaped the beach area around the lagoon (using sand from remaining stockpiles) and conducted some further planting around the main lake. The aftercare plan was agreed and responsibility for the site was passed to Buckland Estate.
Since 2016, when the site came back under our management, we have been planning how to best use the beautiful site that quarrying and nature had left us with. We had been operating a Fishing Club since the 1990’s and had enjoyed it for family use. However, it was thought to have potential as a public space and furthermore it also soon became clear that people were going to come swimming whether invited or not! Earlier plans for a conference centre did not meet with planners’ approval but a vision emerged of a more modest pair of buildings which would enable visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the site.
From the outset, we wanted to keep things relatively low key. A relaxing space with a series of scenic, leisurely walks with great lake views and woodland path options. We wanted to provide a café where visitors would be able to take in the fabulous views or to have the option to picnic next to the lake or on our elevated picnic lawn. And to make the space available for activities on the water.
To that end, in the Summer of 2016 we invited The Surrey Hills Adventure Company to conduct open water swimming and stand-up paddle boarding activities.
In the Spring of 2017, we conducted a pre-application consultation with Surrey County Council and Mole Valley District Council on our intent to open the site to the public. Previous consultation had included discussion with Buckland Parish Council and residents, site visits for planning officials, tours for village residents and public meetings in Buckland Reading Room.
Following the pre-application consultation, work began on the preparation of a planning application. In addition to our Design & Access Statement, this involved a number of supporting documents, from an Ecology Study to traffic surveys, a tourism potential and market research report and a noise management plan, site and building plans, landscape and visual impact reports and so forth. Many of these required valuable input from a number of external consultants. Our full planning application was submitted in August 2017 and open consultations followed between October and November. As a result of feedback received from these consultations, certain changes were made and an amended application was submitted in February 2018.
In May 2018 we were delighted to receive our planning permission. This included the construction of The Reverie and small private dining pavilion, our Outdoor Activity Centre, two bird hides, and a children’s play area. Permission had previously been granted to retain a small number of structures from the quarrying days, including what are now the boathouse, the fishing hut and the concrete housing for the diesel tank, which has been converted into a fish tank.
At that point we launched the tendering and construction process. We were able to conduct a certain amount of the site preparation ourselves but outside contractors were invited to tender for the supply of the café building, the OAC and for groundworks and the installation of utilities. We were encouraged to apply for funding from one of the remaining EU rural development funding programmes. So, once the tenders had been conducted, we made that application and waited for a decision prior to confirming the appointment of the winning contractors and commencing construction.
The planning permission also had a number of conditions attached, so we got to work to discharge them. Quite apart from constructing the main buildings, we have also been busy preparing the site for visitors – 50 years of quarrying resulted in a few features which were not suitable for visitors. Here are just a few of the highlights:
/ Reconnecting and re-commissioning the high voltage supply which formerly powered the quarry. This involved moving the transformer and one pole, earthing the new connection, testing and servicing the equipment and installing new busbars and connections to the new buildings.
/ The car park in fact lies below the water table. We did not want to concrete it over and therefore had to devise a drainage system which left a grass surface that could be used all year round. Fingers crossed!
/ We improved access tracks and paths around the lake through the woods.
/ Removal of remaining quarrying equipment: we managed to fish out of the water the large pontoon and pumps, which maintained the water level of the quarry. We also removed (and where suitable re-used round the farm) the associated pipework and re-purposed the pump house (now the fishing hut) as well as repairing the boathouse.
/ We built a sandpit and a paddling area for children.
/ With the agreement of the planners, we conducted some further planting.
/ We built a website and established a social media presence. In 2019 we hosted a 9 day May event, attended by approximately 3,000 people.
What a journey. We owe thanks to so many people and organisations who have helped us reach this point. And now our venture into the future continues, not made easier by the pandemic, but we very much hope you will visit us and like what you find.
With huge thanks to everyone who has helped us at the various stages of the process and in particular
Leith Hill Plant, who conducted all the ground work
Wernicks, who supplied and erected the OAC
Surrey Oak Barns, who designed, made and erected The Reverie
The Rural Payments Agency – who very generously approved our grant, which contributed to the cost of the construction as part of our programme of diversification of Buckland Estate.
And last but not least the Buckland Estate team who have worked very hard to look after, improve and prepare the site.