The South Downs, which covers parts of Sussex and Hampshire, has been granted National Park status by the Government. Environment minister Hilary Benn announced that the area will become Britain’s ninth national park, and the first to be created since the New Forest in 2005.
The South Downs was one of 12 areas identified for national parks in the 1940s, but it is only now, 60 years later, that it has been officially recognised, with the highest level of protection under the planning system.
Mr Benn’s announcement, which is in line with the recommendation from the planning inspector, follows a 19-month public inquiry into the planning boundaries. The Western Weald, Lewes and the village of Ditchling are also going to be within the park’s boundary, and further additions depend on consultation.
Mr Benn says: ‘It is fitting that in this year, on the 60th anniversary of the radical legislation that gave birth to national parks, we are celebrating an addition to the family.
‘National park status can be a real boost for the local economy, attracting new visitors, businesses and investment, but above all, the South Downs’ wonderful countryside will be protected forever for the enjoyment of everyone.’
However, Eastbourne Conservative MP Nigel Waterson calls the decision ‘profoundly undemocratic’. He says: ‘A National Park can bring some benefits, including tourism. But ministers have ignored the views of almost all local authorities in the area, as well as local people.
‘The extension of the boundary of the proposed park to include Lewes could put a block on the long-overdue improvements to the A27. Also, there is a real worry that local planning applications will be taken out of local control and decided by an unelected quango.’
Chris Todd, manager of the South Downs Campaign, which has fought for National Park status for the South Downs since 1990, says: ‘It’s going to be an historic day. Some people have been waiting for this for more than 60 years. We feel quite young having only campaigned for 20 years.’
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has also lent support to the South Downs National Park proposals. On Monday, March 30, the 60th anniversary of the introduction of laws to protect rural areas, the CPRE urged the Government to go ahead with the planned park.
Bill Bryson, president of the CPRE, had previously called failure to increase the park’s boundaries to include areas such as the Western Weald a ‘national tragedy’. Mr Bryson petitioned the Government on the issue, gathering signatories such as David Dimbleby and Ben Fogle, and also enlisted the support of Natural England and the World Wildlife Fund. Read more about My Bryson’s campaign here.
The South Downs National Park will not be formally created until early 2011, when further consultation has been completed, according to Defra.