The South Downs has been given the go-ahead to become England's ninth National Park.

The new 627 square mile protected area will be home to an estimated 120,000 people, stretching from Beachy Head to the edge of Winchester in Hampshire, in line with an independent inspector's recommendations following a 19-month public inquiry.

A new South Downs National Park Authority is expected to be established by April 2010 and become fully operational a year later.

Click here for our archive of news about the fight to make the Downs a national park.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "Having considered the inspector's report and recommendations carefully, and agreed that the statutory criteria are met, I have decided that the South Downs including the so-called Western Weald should be confirmed as a National Park.

"It is fitting that in this year, the 60th anniversary of the radical legislation that gave birth to National Parks, we are celebrating an addition to the family.

"National Park status can be a real boost for the local economy, attracting new visitors, businesses and investment, but above all, the South Downs' wonderful countryside will be protected forever for the enjoyment of everyone."

For more information and a map of the proposed boundary of the South Downs National Park go to