Get involved: Send your news, views, pictures and video by texting SUPIC to 80360 or email us.
South Downs National Park - The case against park status
|A national park would increase the number of visitors to the Downs, councils say|
Councils across Sussex and the majority of the county's MPs have opposed plans for the South Downs National Park since they were announced in 1999.
Here, MP for Eastbourne Nigel Waterson puts the MPs' case, but first, Steve Ankers, assistant director of development at East Sussex County Council, explains why there is so much opposition.
The county council has consistently opposed national park designation for the South Downs.
Councillors have been concerned that designation would inevitably mean an increase in visitor numbers to a landscape which is in part already subject to heavy visitor pressure.
Designation as a national park might also give an erroneous impression that all open land would be available for public access.
There is also a concern that, if a new national park authority were to assume responsibility for all planning matters, there would be a loss of the current democratic accountability: current planning decisions made by district, county or unitary authorities are made by directly elected councillors.
The track record of these authorities in protecting the downland is very good and there is little evidence to suggest that national park designation would result in a higher rate of refusals of planning permission.
To establish a new planning bureaucracy would entail major cost, and the money could be better spent on the management of the landscape itself.
However, the county council has always taken the view that if there is to be a new national park in the Downs, it should be a good one!
That is, one that is specifically designed to reflect the location and characteristics of the Downs and the issues facing them in the 21st Century, particularly transport planning, rights of way, economic development and community planning.
Here, Eastbourne's Tory MP Nigel Waterson explains why he is opposed to a national park and questions whether the public at large really wants one.
The thing that has always genuinely mystified me is where the pressure is really coming from for a national park.
I certainly find very little support for it in my area.
Yet this Labour government seems determined to push it through regardless, with the noisy backing of small (and thoroughly unrepresentative) groups, mainly based in Brighton, who are fond of quoting dodgy "opinion polls" or rigged "public" meetings.
Indeed, Brighton & Hove Council is the only local authority in the whole area which supports the proposal.
A national park would dilute the existing local control and would be inappropriate to local conditions.
Unlike existing national parks which are largely wilderness areas, much of the South Downs is intensively farmed and borders urban areas.
Moreover, a major reason for national parks is to encourage more visitors, whereas the South Downs already attracts so many visitors as to pose a threat to the local environment!
It is ironic that it is this government which set up a task force to battle the problems faced by existing national parks - too much traffic, too many visitors, too much environmental damage.
No wonder the Countryside Commission (an independent body with no political axe to grind) concluded: "The South Downs do not meet the criteria for designation as a national park".
I believe they got it right - and what we should be doing is building on the success of the existing Sussex Downs Conservation Board, giving it guaranteed funding and proper planning powers.