Council chief apologises for failing to warn of sawmill closure

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One of Surrey County Council’s most senior officials has apologised for not giving proper warning about the decision to close the Norbury sawmill.

The sawmill, and its staff and volunteers, are facing an uncertain future after it was announced in mid-February that it would close by March 31st.

Surrey County Council, which owns the site, says it has received at least five approaches about the business.  But it’s not known whether inquiries relate to the whole business, or just a part of it.

An online petition launched within hours of the closure announcement has now attracted more than 4,000 signatures.

Katie Stewart, Executive Director for Environment at SCC, made her apology at a meeting of the council’s Mole Valley Local Committee.

In answer to a number of questions from local councillors, including Fetcham West’s Paul Kennedy, Stewart said: “I accept that we could have at least advised divisional members (councillors) that this was happening, and that is a failing on my part, and I can only apologise that we didn’t give you notice that this was happening.”

The County Council maintains that the sawmill and the Surrey Wildlife Trust company which runs the business, Norbury Park Wood Products, is not sustainable.  The council claims it has made losses in 16 out of the last 18 years.

However, these figures are disputed and supporters of the sawmill insist the business is making money.

SCC officials say that taking the business back ‘in-house’ would cost the council £280,000 and further investment would be required.

Katie Stewart told the Local Committee meeting: “Anybody who has an idea or a proposal – now is the time to bring it forward.”

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