National Park, December 2009

I'm writing this on the train on the way up to Cumbria, where David Cameron and I are returning to visit people hit by the floods last month.

As I said when we debated the Floods Bill in the Commons this week, we musn't forget that many people will be unable to return to their damaged homes for Christmas and many months to come.

The Lake District's stunning countryside is a highly appropriate place to visit this week as it is the 60th anniversary of the Act which created National Parks.

As a Commons motion which many of us have signed to mark this event declares, the UK's protected landscapes are assets to the nation.

Most National Parks are wild and remote areas.  The Northumberland Park, on the edge of which I lived for a time, contains only 2,200 people.  Until recently the Lake District was the most populous, with 42,200.

But our newly designated South Downs National Park will dwarf this, with 120,000 people living in it, and 85 per cent of the land is farmed.

This is why designating the Downs was always controversial.  Now that the decision has been taken, and it's just been announced that the new Park Authority will be on the smaller side with just 27 members, it will be vital to devise practical working arrangements in this huge 627 square mile area.

So I'm pleased that the interim Park Authority, who I met recently, are looking at how to devolve planning decisions to local authorities, and that they appreciate the importance of working with local farmers.

When the New Forest was declared a Park in 2005, it got off to a bad start and antagonised local people.  We need to learn the lessons from that and ensure that this newest Park is responsive to local communities.

While views differed about the merits of Park status for the South Downs, I believe we are united by a love of this extraordinary landscape and we all want the best possible arrangements to protect it.

Michelle Taylor