Last week I opened a re-commissioned waterwheel on the Wey and Arun canal near Adversane.  It is situated in stunning countryside with oak lined pastures.

I was struck that this pastoral idyll falls just outside the boundary of the National Park.  It is beyond debate that the South Downs landscape in the Park will receive the highest level of protection, as it should.  The issue is how we meet housing need, yet conserve beautiful countryside that does not have special designation.

After all, there was an appalling proposal to build a new town at Adversane, just the other side of the A29, in open countryside.  Fortunately it was seen off.

This week, the Prime Minister wrote to the National Trust to give reassurance about the Government's proposed changes in planning, which I know have concerned many local people.

He said that "our beautiful British landscape is a national treasure.  We should cherish and protect it for everyone's benefit."

And he noted that "sustainable development" - the phrase that has caused debate -"has environmental and social dimensions as well as an economic dimension."

The right balance is important.  I have long advocated the abolition of top-down targets for housing - the number for West Sussex was totally unsustainable - and the return of decision-making power to local communities.

This cannot not mean saying ‘no' to every proposal for new housing.  For the sake of young people we must find a way to accommodate the need for affordable local homes.

Equally, it cannot mean a free-for-all for developers.  The key is that local communities should be in control of the process.

I am passionate about protecting the countryside.  Over the past six years as MP for this beautiful part of England I have fought against large scale and inappropriate development of West Sussex, and I will continue to do so.

This Friday, I will be meeting members of the South Downs Society as they set off on a ‘Green Travel Walk' along the banks of the Arun.  The rendezvous is Arundel Railway Station at 10.30 am.  All are welcome to join the walk.

The event is another reminder that the South Downs and surrounding beautiful countryside must be protected for everyone to enjoy - including future generations.

Christopher N Howarth