National Park

According to the Labour historian Tristram Hunt, writing in the Guardian this week, the decision to designate the South Downs a National Park "is what Labour governments are for: taking on landowners, overriding reactionary councils and socking it to farmers."

This is perhaps the most stupid and divisive argument for a Park that I've heard.  Opinion about this issue has always been divided.  But the loss of local accountability is a genuine concern.

It's not that new development should be allowed in the Downs.  It's that when an unelected Park Authority proposes its first coach park, and elected local councils have no say, I know what the reaction will be.

It's unfortunate to make the Park a Labour Party issue - but Hunt isn't the first.  It was John Prescott who announced his intention to designate the South Downs ten years ago at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.  He then proceeded to approve a 22,000 seat football stadium in the Downs at Falmer.  So much for the Government's claim this week to "protect forever" this special landscape.

Hunt says "there is no place more in need of unspoilt space than the south coast."  Perhaps - but National Park status gives the South Downs landscape no greater protection than they have as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  He says that without a Park the "right of access ... is being lost to a generation."  What tosh.  Has he heard of the South Downs Way?

It's desperately mistaken to believe that this decision has somehow ‘saved' the Downs and the countryside of West Sussex.

The Government's housing target allows for the building of 74,600 houses in West Sussex over the next two decades, increasing the population of the county by a quarter.

Much of this development will be on greenfield land.  This is by far the biggest threat to the landscape of West Sussex, and National Park status for the already protected South Downs will do nothing to prevent it.

Michelle Taylor