Works are continuing to create a major new country park in the Horsham district.
Sandgate Conservation Society has been battling for more than 50 years to get land between Storrington and Washington protected and connected in a bid to create a new country park for the area.
Sandgate Country Park - as it is set to be known - will join together many of the country spaces in the area that are open to the public. It will then be possible to walk by footpath between the two villages using only a very short length of country lane.
However, the society says getting the whole area connected will be a long term project as both the country park and the footpath won’t be completed until the Sandgate sand quarries finish operations in a few years time. The footpath is set to be the ‘glue’ that binds it all together.
Bill Cutting, of the Sandgate Conservation society, said: “Creating a country park around, and including, two very large sand quarries was the idea of the founders of Sandgate Conservation Society.
“Fifty or so years ago, Roy Armstrong (founder of The Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton), and two other local residents, Peter Bazire and Bernard Johnson, got wind of proposals to build a large number of houses in the Sandgate area.
“They called a meeting to form a Society with the aim of ‘protecting our beautiful countryside from inappropriate development’.
“Once formed, the Society was successful in its campaign, only a few houses were built and the remaining land was donated to Horsham District Council. Roy also generously donated part of his garden to the Council and the area is now known as Sandgate Woods - a popular spot for walkers.”
Roy and the Society then proposed the formation of a much bigger country park, which would include as many of the areas of land open to the public as possible.
“The area, known today as Sandgate, was part of the Sandgate Country House Estate,” Bill continued. “This estate was started in the middle of the 19th Century and was eventually so large it stretched as far as Billingshurst. But, like most large country estates throughout the UK, the cost of running it became too high and gradually bits were sold off until eventually all that was left was Sandgate House itself and the immediate area.”
By the Second World War the estate had been turned into a hotel and a school and during the war it was taken over by the Canadian Army.
At the end of the global conflict it was demolished and the land was sold for sand excavation with two large cedar trees all that’s left of what was once a garden.
Despite many objections from residents an application was later approved to dig a sand quarry in the area. The quarry covers an area the size of more than 30 football pitches and in places is over 100 feet deep.
Bill said: “The agreed restoration plan is still a quarry, containing a large lake surrounded by landscaped areas with a number of footpaths. This was seen as the best solution to a difficult problem but one that gave access to the public, making some beneficial use of what otherwise would be an inaccessible area. It would, also, be a useful addition to the country park.”
However, Sandgate Conservation Society were not the only campaigners aiming to protect the area.
In 1935 Enid Clarke Williams organised a national campaign to raise money to buy the woodland and heathland known as Sullington which contains a number of Iron Age Barrows, the remnants of an old windmill and is the home of a rare species of insect.
Bill said: “The campaign was successful and once purchased, the Warren was handed over to The National Trust to look after. Closer to Washington the area known as Warren Hill was bequeathed to The National Trust in 1942. Both of these areas are very popular with walkers.”
He continued: “The Conservation Society recognised that it would be a long struggle to complete Sandgate Country Park, and it could not be completed until the quarry finished operation and restoration.
“However, they resolved to take every opportunity they could to get public access to as many areas of land as possible, and extend the footpaths to join them up.
“The last couple of years have seen a huge step forward, helped by Cemex, the quarry owners, and Barratts, the developers of Millford Grange - a new housing development on the edge of Washington.
“They granted public access to two large areas of land between Sullington Warren and Warren Hill and agreed to build footpaths, seats and sign boards. This work is now complete and is already proving popular with walkers.”
However, he added walkers would still have had to use narrow and busy country lanes if they wished to get to Warren Hill.
“Seeing this as a problem, the Conservation Society approached The National Trust, who agreed to allow a permissive footpath across an area of grassland to enable walkers to avoid the busy lanes,” he said.
“Again, this has been very successful and The National Trust must be thanked for their cooperation.”
Bill said in a recent planning application, Cemex indicated that sand-winning could be completed within 11 years, well ahead of the original 2042 completion date.
He added: “The Society sees that the completion work in the quarry and its restoration could be even earlier as the need for building sand increases as the need for houses increases.
“When completed, Sandgate Country Park will be a wonderful area of open space; woodland; heathland; plus a lakeside walk deep in the quarry - all open for the public to enjoy.
“In this age of development, it is a credit to Sandgate Conservation Society that we will soon see the completion of the Country Park. The Society’s founders’ main objective ‘to prevent inappropriate development of our beautiful countryside’ will have been met.
“Such vision in attempting to rescue a valuable asset for public enjoyment should be applauded.”