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South Downs National Park - The case for park status
|Devil's Dyke is one of the jewels of the South Downs|
The case for a national park has been led by the South Downs Campaign, which was set up in 1990 to fight for better protection for the Downs.
The Campaign is an umbrella group of local and national environmental, community and conservation groups, including the Council for National Parks, Friends of the Earth, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, the Society of Sussex Downsmen and the Ramblers' Association.
After much deliberation it concluded that a national park was the best way of protecting and enhancing the South Downs.
National park status would put conservation at the top of the agenda and would provide access to funding to ensure a sustainable future for the Downs.
Three quarters of the funding for the National Park Authorities comes from central government with the remaining 25 per cent coming via local councils. National Park Authorities can also take advantage of Lottery and European grants.
Almost £21 million of direct government grant is made to the 11 park authorities in England and Wales, which have a total budget of just under £28 million.
A report published in July 2001 by the Council for National Parks, WWF-UK and English Nature set out the advantages national park status would bring to the South Downs.
It concluded: "Designation as a national park will make an identifiable difference to the potential for enhancement in the South Downs."
Park designation, it went on, would open up new opportunities for biodiversity and landscape enhancement, and work for those who live on or manage the land in the South Downs as well as for outsiders coming to enjoy it.
|"The landscape and wildlife habitats of the South Downs are of national and international importance. This is a unique corner of the world: white cliffs and rolling downland, wildflowers and
butterflies, and above all, written clearly on the landscape, the story of how people have lived in it over thousands of years. Millions visit the South Downs, looking for a gentle, very English kind
Council for National Parks
The Council for National Parks (CNP) is the national charity that works to protect and enhance the national parks of England and Wales and promotes the case for other areas that merit park status. It says the South Downs meets all the criteria for park status - wildlife, natural beauty, cultural heritage and opportunities for open air recreation.
The case for a national park in the South Downs is particularly strong, the CNP says, since the creation in 1989 of the Broads National Park in Norfolk, which broke the mould of the traditional image of heather moorland associated with the national parks in the north of England and Wales.
It identified seven key benefits a national park would bring:
- More government money and secure long-term direct funding
- Improved staff resources for conservation, enhancement, recreation and fund-raising work
- Closer working relationships with funding agencies
- Improved access to funds from external sources
- Enhanced status locally, nationally and globally
- A closer relationship with farmers
|Campaigners want the park to include areas on the urban fringe|
The South Downs Campaign (SDC) has given its strong backing to most of the Countryside Agency's draft proposals for the South Downs National Park.
However, the SDC says the agency's proposals do not go far enough and should have included a number of areas where outlying urban areas meet the park boundaries, such as Whitehawk Hill in east Brighton and at Ringmer, north of Lewes. And it says the southern boundary along the urban fringe from Seaford to Littlehampton, currently outside the proposed park, will be especially vulnerable to development.
The Campaign is particularly concerned that areas such as the Cuckmere and Ouse Valleys in East Sussex and areas around Chichester and south of Arundel to the Adur Valley in West Sussex are not within the draft boundaries.
|"We warmly welcome the Countryside Agency's proposals. We are particularly pleased that they appeared to have taken notice of our detailed submission on the boundary. We also fully support the
National Park being the full planning authority. This will give the South Downs the protection and long term security it so desperately needs. We hope that the Countryside Agency will reconsider the
areas it has currently left out."
South Downs Campaign - Robin Crane, SDC Chairman
And the SDC is disappointed the agency has not taken the opportunity to make the South Downs the first park in the UK to extend protection out to sea along the Heritage Coast between Seaford and Eastbourne.
The Campaign is also urging the agency to reject protests by local councils and ensure the proposed park authority has full planning powers.
In its proposals, the agency suggests the standard model for a national park authoruty (which includes being the planning authority) should be adopted for the South Downs.
The SDC wants the park authority to be a strategic planning authority which would produce a Structure Plan for the area independently of the other strategic planning authorities (West and East Sussex County Councils and Brighton and Hove City Council).
'Myths and misconceptions'
The Campaign has been at loggerheads with West Sussex County Council, which has been the most vociferous opponent of a national park.
The SDC has accused the county council of having "unsubstantiated and fossilised concerns" about the park and says it has failed to grasp the issues involved because it has ignored the facts in favour of peddling "myths and misconceptions".
The Campaign dismisses claims by the county council and others that the park would actually damage the South Downs because it would boost tourism and argues this is simply a smokescreen to hide its real objections to losing control of planning decisions.
Campaign chairman Robin Crane says: "A national park is not there to promote tourism. That is the role of the local authorities and tourist boards. So if these councillors have concerns about the area's over-promotion they should rein in their own tourism department, not oppose a national park.
"A national park is there to conserve and enhance the landscape and to manage the recreational pressures. If there is any conflict between conservation and recreation, then conservation takes priority."
The Campaign says West Sussex County Council's proposals to reduce the national park to the chalk hills would create more problems, not less.
|Arundel has controversially been included in the draft boundaries|
"It would leave many villages at the foot of the Downs outside the national park. They would then be less likely to receive help managing tourism in the area and could lose out to the extra funding and protection a National Park brings.
"The countryside proposed for the national park north of the chalk is of equal merit. It's remarkably unspoilt landscape providing superb scenery from the Downs. Its internationally important heathlands, rich in wildlife, provide recreation for many local people."
The Campaign argues that, contrary to claims by local councils, the public is in fact strongly behind the principle of the South Downs National Park.
There have been few public opinion polls by councils in Sussex, but a survey carried out by Arun District Council showed strong support for the park, as did other polls conducted by the Ramblers' Association and other lobby groups.
Robin Crane, chairman of the South Downs Campaign said: "The results give the council an overwhelming mandate to support the national park and for the inclusion of Arundel within the Park boundaries. "We hope that other councils, particularly West Sussex County Council, take note of this result and rethink their position.
"The time has come for local authorities to ditch their isolated opposition to the national park and work constructively with us and the Countryside Agency to find a solution that is best for the long-term protection of the South Downs.
"Local Councils need to respond to the wishes of local people and grasp this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with both hands. "This beautiful corner of England is too precious to be lost because of petty political bickering."
The South Downs Campaign is a network of organisations including:
National- Council for National Parks, Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), Friends of the Earth (FOE), Open Spaces Society, Ramblers' Association, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Wildlife Trusts, WWF-UK, Youth Hostels Association (YHA)
Local/regional- CPRE Sussex, CPRE East Hants, FOE South East, Ramblers' Association Sussex, Ramblers' Association Hampshire, Society of Sussex Downsmen, Sussex Archaeological Society, Sussex Wildlife Trust, YHA South Region, plus many other local supporters
For more information visit the Campaign's web site.