We must work together to make National Park a success

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has urged everyone to work together to make the South Downs National Park a success, saying that local people were united by a love of the Downs and a desire to protect them.

Mr Herbert was speaking at a conference organised by chartered surveyors Smiths Gore and solicitors Adams & Remers on Friday 29 January at which local farmers and landowners discussed their involvement in the National Park.

The Shadow Environment Secretary said that the decision to designate the South Downs as a National Park had been controversial and that opinion had been divided.

Mr Herbert conceded that on balance he would not have confirmed the National Park because of his concerns about accountability, but now that the decision had been made, he hoped everyone would come together to make it work.

The MP warned national or local politicians not to make an issue of the fact that some people originally had concerns about the Park, as this would only damage its chance of success.  He also urged those who had concerns about the creation of the Park to "give it a chance" and to come together and make it work successfully.

The MP said there were a number of unique challenges to overcome in a Park of 630 square miles, 85 per cent of which is farmed, and a population of 120,000 people.

Mr Herbert said it was "incredibly important" that farmers and landowners did not feel excluded and that we should "never forget" that the beauty of the South Downs is a consequence of their stewardship and management.

Speaking about the need to foster economic development, Mr Herbert called on a future Park Authority not to "stand in the way" of improvements to the A27.  He said that it was vital to the social and economic wellbeing of Sussex and to the environment of the South Downs which is plagued by "rat-running".

The Shadow Environment Secretary pledged that a Conservative Government would be committed to the National Parks and described them as the "crown jewels" of our landscape.  He said: "It behoves any government in the future to ensure that the landscape within these particularly special areas is cherished and protected."

However, Mr Herbert also said that it was necessary to "... look going forward at how the National Parks are structured in the context of whole-hearted support for the Parks themselves."

He said: "We do need to look at and discuss sensibly the governance and accountability arrangements of Parks generally.  I think it's very difficult to see how an organisation of 27 members can take a decision effectively.

"That is the paradox of the [National Park] Authorities, that they are too big to take decisions effectively and too small to be properly representative."

Summing up, Mr Herbert said there were opportunities that could flow from National Park designation as well as challenges.  He said: "I think it is the time for us to shape the Park in a bespoke, practical way that works for local communities in the South Downs and works to ensure the landscape is protected.

"We all love the South Downs.  We all value this very special landscape.  My plea therefore is that, whatever our views were, that we do now come together and make this Park work."



Notes for Editors

1. The conference at Goodwood House, entitled ‘The South Downs National Park - Which Direction?' was hosted by solicitors Adams & Remers and chartered surveyors Smiths Gore. It brought together key players and influential figures to discuss the implications of the National Park designation and its likely impact on landowners. The conference provided an overview of how the new National Park Authority will operate and highlighted the main issues arising for those living and working within a National Park. Speakers included the Interim Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority Richard Shaw, the Earl of March and Director of the English National Park Authorities Association Paul Hamblin. Delegates included farmers, landowners, representatives of rural businesses and local councils.

Christopher N Howarth