In our weekly feature Your Interview, we give you, our readers, the chance to ask key figures and groups across Sussex the questions you want answered. This week Trevor Beattie, the chief executive of South Downs National Park Authority, discusses plans, travellers and value for money.

George Smith: What are your views on what has happened in Wild Park in Brighton? The trees have been felled without a licence and there’s no evidence that it was ever used for sheep grazing. It was given to the people of Brighton for recreation, not as a sheep farm. What was your organisation’s involvement in all this please?

Trevor Beattie (TB): Chalk grassland is an internationally important but endangered habitat – it is often described as the British equivalent of tropical rainforest and is vital to the survival of rare wildlife such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and orchids.

We are keen to support the restoration of chalk grassland across the national park, including at Wild Park. And work with full permission and correct licences with lots of organisations and landowners to join up and improve this habitat and see it thriving as part of our farmed landscapes. It’s important to remember that the South Downs isn’t a wilderness – it’s a managed landscape which only exists because of the farming and grazing that’s taken place here over thousands of years.

We can tell from the plants and species found today at Wild Park that there’s a long history of grazing on the site and in recent years Brighton and Hove City Council has been trying to restore the area. The South Downs Volunteer Rangers regularly work on the site.

Jerry Clyde: You’re an unelected body which gets millions of pounds from the taxpayer every year. Do you think the organisation provides value for money and what steps do you take to be accountable to the people that fund you?

TB: The national park authority includes elected representatives from every local authority which constitutes the national park. Our meetings are held in public and documents are available on our website for full public scrutiny.

We follow a strict code of governance which is our commitment to transparency and accountability – you can read it in full on our website at

Our first two years as a national park authority have been both busy and extremely productive and I am very proud of all that we have achieved.

This has only been possible through the support that the members and staff of the authority have received from communities, volunteers, local authorities and other partner organisations across South Downs National Park. There is much more hard work ahead with many exciting milestones on the horizon.

Jimmy Stewart’s Imaginary Rabbit: To cope with the growing population Sussex needs more houses, plus all the related infrastructure development that that entails. There are not sufficient brownfield sites to meet the demand, so is South Downs National Park Authority receptive to new development? Or will it adopt a more reactionary position?

TB: We’re in the early stages of putting together a local plan for the national park which is a strategy for development across the South Downs. In developing the local plan we will need to consider the need for housing and new development – in particular affordable housing. Establishing what this level of need for local people is will be a major part of this work.

Charismatic Andrew: Can South Downs National Park Authority confirm that it will reject the planning application for an expansion of the traveller site at Horsdean which falls inside the national park? Do you agree that plans for an expansion of the traveller site are in direct contravention of the park authority’s aims?

Can the authority confirm that as one of its members (Pete West) is also a councillor at Brighton and Hove City Council, which is submitting the planning application, he will have no influence whatsoever on the decision of whether to approve the application since he has a conflict of interest?

TB: At this time we have not received a planning application for an expansion to the travellers’ site at Horsdean. And as with any planning application we are not allowed to pre-judge any decision the planning committee might make on a future application.

We have a duty to foster the social wellbeing of communities within the national park, which includes all sections of the community – both settled and travelling.

All members have signed up to the authority’s approved code of conduct which includes registration and disclosure of interests.

Sophie Splintoff: Has making the South Downs a national park made any difference? If so, what?

TB: Yes, our first two years as an authority have been both busy and extremely productive and I am ||very proud of all that we have achieved.

One of the highlights this year was the launch of Our South Downs, which aims to give more than 500,000 children the chance to benefit from outdoor learning in the national park. Thanks to this scheme, over 700 schools in and around the national park will have access to an outdoor learning curriculum which enables them to draw on the rich biodiversity, habitat, landscape, heritage, culture and industry that surrounds them.

In 2012 the authority produced its first report into the state of South Downs National Park which revealed that its economy is estimated to be worth around £2.23 billion annually. It also illustrated the potential to create a more sustainable and resilient economy by building jobs and communities based on its landscapes and special qualities.

To date the authority has supported almost 90 communities across the national park through the Sustainable Communities Fund. The authority funding of more than £650,000 has, in turn, helped these projects to bring in more than £10 million of additional match funding from other sources.

In 2012 we succeeded in a £3.81 million joint funding bid from central Government to increase the use of sustainable transport across South Downs National Park and New Forest National Park. As a result we have been able to set up a fund to which local communities can submit bids for their own sustainable transport projects. We have also started work with train and bus companies to improve the transport options in the area. Look out for a campaign which will encourage people to discover the national park using buses, trains and bikes.

The Argus: What is your stance on the proposed development of St Cuthman’s School in Stedham, West Sussex, where London’s Durand Academy wants to build on 175,000 sq ft of untouched national park land? The National Trust has advised you it would be of “detrimental effect” to the area if it is given the green light. Do you agree?

TB: South Downs National Park Authority will consider the proposal for the Durand Academy in the context of local and national planning policies and our purposes and duty, as they do with every planning application within the national park. We can’t pre-judge the decision the planning committee will make when it comes to them in due course.

Janice Derham: What’s happening between the national park authority and Brighton and Hove City Council in relation to the council’s city plan guidelines?

The council has identified areas on the outskirts of the city suitable for future development. But the national park authority is adamant the council’s proposals fall outside its authority and they should be removed. Who is right?

TB: We have a close partnership with Brighton and Hove City Council as we do with all other local authorities. We are therefore working closely with them on their city plan and will be liaising with them as we prepare our own local plan. It is of course too early for us to comment on specific housing allocations.

Anonymous: Are there problems with sheep worrying on the South Downs? If dog owners can’t keep their pets under control could they enforce, or would they consider, a ban on dogs on the South Downs?

TB: Yes, sheep worrying is a problem in the South Downs. Every year a number of sheep and lambs across the national park are killed or injured by out-of-control dogs. These attacks cause unnecessary suffering to the animals and are very distressing for farmers.

We don’t own the land so aren’t in a position to ban dogs from the national park, nor would we want to. Responsible dog walking is a great way for people to get out, get fit and experience the South Downs and the vast majority of dog walkers respect the lives and livelihoods of the people whose land they’re walking.

However a few still allow their dogs off lead when around sheep. We’re working with farmers and dog walkers to remind people that keeping your dog under control is a matter of respect for the people who take care of the land and their livelihoods. For example on May 11 we’re jointly running a Dog Fun Day with the National Trust where people can bring their pets for an enjoyable day out and learn about the importance of being a responsible dog walker.

Anonymous: There are a few things I would be keen to find out from the perspective of using the Downs as a horse rider and dog walker. Several times while using bridleways I have encountered people on motorbikes and quad bikes who to the best of my knowledge shouldn't be using the bridleways. I would like to know what action is being taken to try to safeguard users of bridleways from people using these areas illegally?

TB: Most people who drive off-road do so on the legal public highway and act responsibly. There are unfortunately a small minority who do drive illegally and can put other legal users’ safety at risk and may cause damage to the countryside.

We’re concerned about such abuse and would urge motorised users to follow the Land Access and Recreation Association (LARA) and Trials Rider Fellowship (TRF) codes of conduct. In Sussex we have worked with the police, local authorities and other interests on Pathwatch, where you can report antisocial off-road driving straight to the police. If you witness illegal or irresponsible use of motorised vehicles in the countryside please report it through or by calling Sussex Police on 101.

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