National Park is the "wrong decision" taken for political reasons

Commenting on the Government’s announcement that the South Downs will become a National Park, Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel & South Downs said:

"As the MP for the South Downs I feel strongly about this special area and I want the best possible arrangements to ensure that its unique and precious landscape is protected.  But this is the wrong decision which has been rushed for political reasons.  The Government is making this announcement before they have even determined the final boundaries of the Park. 

"It would have been better to have strengthened the South Downs Joint Committee, which is working perfectly well to manage the existing Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The revised National Park boundary produces some extraordinary anomalies.  While the towns of Lewes and Petersfield are inside, Arundel and Downland villages such as Steyning - both originally included - are now outside.  And some areas on the edge of the Park which are currently in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will lose their protected status altogether.

"This will be the most populated National Park in the country.  The transfer of authority from elected local councils to a new quango, which will take more planning decisions than in any other National Park, is a step in precisely the wrong direction at a time when local communities should be given more of a say over their own affairs, not less.

"I therefore intend to keep the effectiveness of the new Park under review, in particular the accountability arrangements, to ensure that communities retain local control over decisions affecting their own area.  There is no guarantee that planning decisions will be delegated to local authorities, and in any case it is not clear that this would address the ‘democratic deficit'.

"85 per cent of the National Park area is farmed.  It is unlike the other ‘wilderness' areas covered by existing National Parks.  That is why the South Downs have been rejected as a National Park on three occasions since Parks were first introduced in 1945.

"National Park status gives the South Downs landscape no greater protection than they have as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The single most damaging decision to affect the Downs in the last few years came from the Government, when John Prescott approved the development of a football stadium at Falmer.  Ironically it was Prescott who announced the proposed Park to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton ten years ago.

"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."

Ends

 

Notes for Editors

1. For a copy of the announcement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), visit http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/latest/2009/country-0331.htm.

2. For details of the designation work carried out by Natural England on the proposed South Downs National Park and a more detailed map of the boundary, visit http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/new/southdowns/default.aspx.

3. For information on the public inquiries that have been held to examine the National Park proposal, visit http://www.planning-inspectorate.gov.uk/southdowns/.

4. The South Downs is currently managed by the South Downs Joint Committee, created in 2005 from a merger of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board and East Hampshire AONB Joint Advisory Committee. For their website, visit http://www.southdowns.gov.uk/.

5. The South Downs has been rejected as a National Park on three occasions: by John Dower in 1945, by the National Parks Commission in 1956 and by the Countryside Commission in 1998.

Ed Barker