Meet the chairman and deputy chairman of the new South Downs National Park

PUBLISHED: 16:52 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:14 20 February 2013

Meet the chairman and deputy chairman of the new South Downs National Park

Meet the chairman and deputy chairman of the new South Downs National Park

After more than 60 years, the South Downs is now a National Park and the authority's first meeting appointed a chairman, Margaret Paren and deputy chairman Cllr Charles Peck. Simon Irwin went to meet both of them

After more than 60 years, the South Downs is now a National Park and the authority's first meeting appointed a chairman, Margaret Paren and deputy chairman Cllr Charles Peck. Simon Irwin went to meet both of them



Margaret Paren is a woman with a mission. She wants our new National Park to be an inspiration for others.



Speaking at her home in the South Downs, she said: I cant tell you what the vision is because we havent developed it yet but I want it to be an exemplar of a 21st century National Park where people come to learn.


She sees her role as a conductor helping the members come up with the best decisions for the authority collectively rather than as a leader in the traditional local council model.



Already she is pleased with the way the members are working together instead of splitting into separate factions, for example the local council nominees and the nationally-appointed members.



A common theme in her answers to what will happen in the future is that of added value. She believes that, because of its broad geographical scope and its planning powers, the new park can do more to preserve and enhance the South Downs than was possible before.



She said: What we want to do, and what we get the money to do, is to add value. Were not here to be another layer of bureaucracy.


We can help farmers and landowners access high-level agro-environmental schemes.


We know they are worried about the impact of tourism. The thing we can do, the thing we are there to do, is to manage recreation.We can try to ensure that the people coming into the park get a really fantastic experience but without destroying what they have come to see.



But before this can begin to happen, there are some big decisions to be made.


Should the new body make the decisions on planning applications in the park or delegate them? Should it have a countryside management service on the ground or not? And the real no-win decision, where should its new headquarters be?


The key decisions on planning and the management service will be taken this month (June). Only when the authority knows what it will actually be doing can it then decide where the headquarters or any subsidiary offices will be and begin to draw up its vision for the future.



The National Park can delegate planning decisions to local authorities after setting the guidelines for them to follow. It can also decide whether to have a countryside management service on the ground offering advice and assistance to landowners and farmers.



These decisions are crucial to how hands-on the authority will be or, at least, appear to be and how it will spend its budget.


Mrs Paren is excited by the fact that the Government set the boundaries of the National Park so wide.



She said: Im very excited by the fact that we have towns like Petersfield and Lewes and Midhurst in the national park.



If they werent in the park, the South Downs National Park planning authority would have to go cap in hand to the other authorities and say These are really key hubs for us and we want them developed in such a way and it would have to be negotiated with a different planning authority.



As we are the planning authority, we can develop those towns in accordance with national park purposes. We can make sure through the planning system that we deliver. We wouldnt be able to do that with those towns outside.


Transport is a key issue for the future. Mrs Paren is excited by schemes she has seen in Germany with transport hubs based around railway stations where the buses also stop and people can get bicycles to ride into the countryside.



We can use towns such as Petersfield, Lewes and Midhurst as proper transport hubs so people can get out into the national park sustainably.


They can become hubs for visitors but they can also become hubs for the local communities around.



Its already happening with farmers markets and so on. Theres been some quite exciting things done in some of the villages trying to reconnect communities into the countryside into the farming community. We could take that one step further.



The Park has good north-south links, the problem is east-west. Its the longest national park in the country about 100 miles and were not well served by public transport across the area and thats something were recognising as members.



Were not the transport authority, that remains with the county councils and were not going to be trying to do their job for them but its all about discussing, negotiating, perhaps seed-funding and helping to get things set up which are going to benefit the local communities as well as the people coming in.



Theres a classic case in Petersfield where a site directly next to the station got planning permission some years back for a DIY store. Now theres no reason why that shouldnt have gone ahead, it was a perfectly valid thing for the local authority as it was then to approve.



If that had happened next year onwards then we would have been looking at it very seriously as a really key site because of the transport hub.


So the framework for the organisation needs to be set, there are huge opportunities to make things better for visitors and local people, but where is the headquarters going to be?



At the moment the interim chief executive Richard Shaw is based in Midhurst and the authority is also in offices in Petersfield but no decision has been taken on any permanent base or bases.



Mrs Paren knows that this is a decision where it will be impossible to please everyone.


CHARLES Peck lives in the Park in the village of Friston. Like Mrs Paren, he is an incomer who arrived in Sussex and fell in love with the South Downs.

A New England lawyer, he arrived at Tilbury on 21st May, 1987 after he married his wife Dr Joanna Shawcross, a palliative care consultant, who was brought up in Sussex. They lived in London before they moved to Sussex in 1993.

He was Secretary to the Potato Marketing Board when the couple lived in London and now he operates a watch repair business as well as representing the East Dean Ward on Wealden District Council.

Cllr Peck wants the Park to be a vibrant, successful place to live and visit: Im not interested in putting the people who live here into some sort of 18th century theme park. Its got to be real. Theres going to be development, there will be buildings built, there will be minerals extracted.

There will be conflicts, there already are and there have been for a long time but we want to manage it and facilitate the best outcome economically and socially as well as for the benefit of the wildlife, nature, tranquillity and all those other good things.

He knows from his previous life in the United States how well national parks are regarded by those who use them.

I know from my own country that parks are tremendously popular and really its the idea of the park thats more important than anything else. That this is a place thats special and were going to take care of it in a special way.

Its a place that people come, its a place that people like. Its a place thats good for people and its good for the people who live here and we need to make sure that all those things are nurtured and encouraged and enhanced

His own personal vision for the Park is for its existing character to be enhanced and recognisable.

I want the South Downs to be a place that when you come into it you know youre there. I want you to feel a difference. The reason the Park is so important is that its a nationally recognised way of achieving certain goals laid down by Parliament.

And we have to work with other organisations and communities to promote the economic and social well-being of the people who live in the Park.

CHARLES Peck lives in the Park in the village of Friston. Like Mrs Paren, he is an incomer who arrived in Sussex and fell in love with the South Downs.



A New England lawyer, he arrived at Tilbury on 21st May, 1987 after he married his wife Dr Joanna Shawcross, a palliative care consultant, who was brought up in Sussex. They lived in London before they moved to Sussex in 1993.



He was Secretary to the Potato Marketing Board when the couple lived in London and now he operates a watch repair business as well as representing the East Dean Ward on Wealden District Council.



Cllr Peck wants the Park to be a vibrant, successful place to live and visit: Im not interested in putting the people who live here into some sort of 18th century theme park. Its got to be real. Theres going to be development, there will be buildings built, there will be minerals extracted.



There will be conflicts, there already are and there have been for a long time but we want to manage it and facilitate the best outcome economically and socially as well as for the benefit of the wildlife, nature, tranquillity and all those other good things.


He knows from his previous life in the United States how well national parks are regarded by those who use them.



I know from my own country that parks are tremendously popular and really its the idea of the park thats more important than anything else. That this is a place thats special and were going to take care of it in a special way.


Its a place that people come, its a place that people like. Its a place thats good for people and its good for the people who live here and we need to make sure that all those things are nurtured and encouraged and enhanced



His own personal vision for the Park is for its existing character to be enhanced and recognisable.



I want the South Downs to be a place that when you come into it you know youre there. I want you to feel a difference. The reason the Park is so important is that its a nationally recognised way of achieving certain goals laid down by Parliament.



And we have to work with other organisations and communities to promote the economic and social well-being of the people who live in the Park.


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