The Government has announced the reopening of the inquiry into the proposed national park in the South Downs.
It is the latest development in the longest running saga of any of the national parks in Britain. The original intention was that the South Downs be designated a park along with areas such as the Peak District and the Lake District when the law enabling their creation was passed in 1949.
However, this plan was dropped in the 1950s and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were set up instead. This is a lesser status and excludes the concept of the district being used for recreation.
In 1999, the proposal was resurrected to form a national park covering the area. The process was further complicated by the decision to include, in 2004, an area around Arundel that had been excluded previously because a bypass was due to built across it. After the road plans were shelved, the land was incorporated into the proposed area.
Wind forward to 2006 and another spanner was thrown into the works. Pay attention at the back of the class, we’ll be asking questions later. A case known as the Meyrick judgement concerning the New Forest National Park was lost by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the Appeal Court, which had implications for the South Downs.
Stay with us now, we’re nearly there. In May last year, the provisions of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 came into force, putting the situation back, the Government hopes, to where it thought it was before the Meyrick case.
Hence the new inquiry. The Council for National Parks (CNP), a charity which works to promote the parks, welcomed the news and said it hoped the new park would include additional areas which the original inquiry excluded, including the landscape known as the western Weald, around Petersfield and Midhurst. The Ramblers’ Association also organised an e-petition in support of its inclusion.
CNP’s deputy chief executive Ruth Chambers said: “The case for granting National Park status to the western Weald is overwhelming. It is a beautiful and iconic landscape with close associations to the chalk hills.
“Its inclusion would ensure that a South Downs National Park would be big and varied enough to fulfil the needs for quiet recreation and spiritual renewal of the ever-expanding population of the south east. It is unfortunate that because of the structure of the public inquiry these positive reasons for including the western Weald were not properly examined and essential, therefore, that the inspector hears this evidence when the inquiry reopens.
“The first post-war Government passed the legislation to allow the creation of national parks nearly 60 years ago. The South Downs was one of twelve areas recommended for National Park status but is the only one yet to be established. It is long overdue and today’s announcement brings its designation a welcome step closer.
“There has been overwhelming public support for the South Downs National Park. Designating the South Downs a national park will bring much needed protection, greater funding opportunities and more co-ordinated management and planning to the area.”
The proposed new national park would run from Eastbourne in the East to a western boundary at Winchester, bringing the area within a short distance of major population centres such as Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton.
The resumed inquiry will open in February next year in Worthing, West Sussex.