The South Downs - dawn of a new era
PUBLISHED: 01:16 04 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:08 20 February 2013
The South Downs heralds a new dawn on April 1 when the National Park Authority takes control of the 400,000 acres of Downs stretching from Winchester to Eastbourne
The South Downs National Park Authority starts with an 11.4m budget and a remit to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the parks special qualities by the public.
Importantly, the park authority is now the sole planning authority, which makes it one of the largest planners in the country both in terms of the number of applications and the geographical area covered.
Point of contact
In practice, the day-to-day processing of applications remains with the local councils, but the park authority retains the option to call in applications of concern and will deal directly with large scale applications that are likely to have a significant impact on the national park.
Day-to-day communication between councils and the park authority is now in the hands of the National Park Delivery Service, which will engage directly with residents, voluntary groups, farmers, landowners, land managers and visitors. The service is now the first point of contact, engaging with local communities on parish plans and local projects, providing advice, support and grant information, engaging with visitors, working with volunteers and generally communicating and enthusing people about the South Downs.
The park authority has also formed a partnership with the four local highways authorities across the region to determine how best to ensure a high standard of access and rights of way across the South Downs National Park. Whilst the South Downs National Park Authority is not directly responsible for the management and maintenance of public rights of way, it is responsible for open access land, and has a number of powers that work alongside the highways authority such as the ability to create, divert and extinguish rights of way. Andrew Shaxson, Chair of the authoritys planning committee says: We considered a number of options, and took account of comments from local residents, landowners and other interest groups, as well as the current 15 local planning authorities.
The decision, in principle, delegates most of the planning service back to the local authorities under our guidance. This will enable the national park authority to work strategically, focusing on the most significant and major applications likely to have the greatest impact on the national park.
In February, the park authority also formed a strategic partnership with the South Downs Network and South Downs Land Management groups which will take part in a range of forums, activities and projects relating to the development of the South Downs. The South Downs Network, a new alliance formed last year between major environmental and conservation groups, has a strong commitment to the long term protection of the South Downs National Park. The South Downs Land Management Group is an independent voluntary group representing the interests of all farmers and foresters, landowners and their tenants, rural entrepreneurs involved in the land based economy of the South Downs National Park.
Margaret Paren, chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, says: Good land management and good conservation are at the heart of what makes the South Downs National Park such a wonderful place. We recognise the importance of regular dialogue and partnership with these sectors. I am delighted that we have been able to define our working relationships in these two Memorandums of Understanding, which will help deliver tangible benefits for the South Downs. The park authority budget of 11.4m provided by central government represents a significant increase on the previous funding provided by local authorities and Natural England to support the previous South Downs Joint Committee authority which ceased business on March 31st.
We welcome this injection of funding into the South Downs area and will continue to work with all of our partners to ensure we get the maximum benefit from the expenditure, says Mrs Paren. We are providing community grants totalling 400,000 this year aimed at supporting initiatives involving the local community and voluntary groups across the park area.
We recognise the difficult financial climate and that is reflected in our budget, which will reduce to 10.2m over the next four years. But we are working hard to create an efficient organisation and we will direct spending to the highest priority areas. One of the authoritys first acquisitions has been to purchase Capron House in Midhurst and the Memorial Hall behind it as the authoritys new headquarters.
This will house 60-70 staff when it opens next year. In the interim, the park authority will maintain four area offices in Hampshire, East Sussex and two in West Sussex to maintain closer contact with local communities.
One initiative already undertaken by the park authority was the first in a series of Youth Environment Conferences, held at Ditcham Park School near Petersfield, last January. Pupils aged 15 to 16 from nine schools discussed ways for youth to get involved in environmental initiatives.
One outcome is an online youth poll, encouraging those aged 18 and under to add their views. Go to www.southdowns.gov.uk to join in.
The park in numbers
400,000 the approximate number of acres of the park.
107,929 the number of people living in the park
39,000,000 the estimated number of visitor days spent in the park each year
16,000 the population of the single largest settlement within the park (Lewes)
85 the percentage of land in the park that is agricultural
4 the percentage of land in the park that is chalk grassland
20 the percentage of land in the park that is woodland, half of this is classed as ancient
200 the approximate number of miles of river within the park
920 the approximate height in feet of the highest point in the park, Blackdown in Sussex
150 the number of Grade I-listed buildings in the park
1,742 the number of farms in