National Park must "engage and consult not dictate"

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has said that the success of the new South Downs National Park will depend on the willingness of the new Park Authority “to engage and consult” with local communities, especially farmers, and “not dictate”.

The MP's comments came ahead of a meeting this week at which local farmers and landowners will discuss their involvement in the new South Downs National Park.

The South Downs will be designated as a national park on 31 March this year, but the National Park Authority will not take on its full statutory powers until April 2011.

In an interview with the South Downs Society's publication ‘The Downsman', Mr Herbert said that he shared their members' enthusiasm for the Downs.

But the MP said "a special challenge" was the size of the new Park.  "The Lake District was the biggest National Park with a population of 42,000.  We have 120,000 people and it will have to be handled differently.

"Perhaps the most important thing is to make sure local communities are included.  Much of what I see locally that is successful is about partnership and voluntary effort.

"It will be very important to look at the accountability arrangements, the devolution of planning decisions, and making sure there is strong engagement with the farming community.  Success will be down to good leadership and the willingness to engage and consult and not to dictate.  It is only through the goodwill of the farmers doing the right thing that we can achieve the outcomes that we want."

Mr Herbert said 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, the important thing was to make the Park a success and bring along all the people who have big concerns about it.

The Shadow Environment Secretary also said that a future Conservative Government would maintain support for the National Parks: "It is important all governments remain committed to the National Parks and to protecting them. They are the crown jewels of our landscape and have a very important part to play in terms of public enjoyment of the countryside and bridging the divide between country and town."

On Friday (29 January) Mr Herbert will be at Goodwood House near Chichester to speak at a seminar that will bring together farmers and landowners from across the South Downs to discuss the impact of the National Park.

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Notes for Editors

1. For the full interview in The Downsman, a magazine published by the South Downs Society, visit http://www.southdownssociety.org.uk/do/ecco/view_item?listid=35&listcatid=147&listitemid=1595.

2. The seminar at Goodwood House on Friday 29 January, entitled ‘The South Downs National Park - Which Direction?' will be hosted by solicitors Adams & Remers and chartered surveyors Smiths Gore. It will bring together key players and influential figures to discuss the implications of the National Park designation and its likely impact on landowners. The seminar will provide an overview of how the new National Park Authority will operate and will highlight the main issues arising for those living and working within a National Park. Speakers will include Nick Herbert MP, 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 will include farmers, landowners, representatives of rural businesses and local councils.

Ed Barker