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Proposed South Downs National Park

South Downs Inquiry to re-open

Jonathan Shaw, Minister for Landscape & Rural Affairs has announced that he will re-open the South Downs Public Inquiry to consider certain new issues relating to the proposed South Downs National Park (Designation) Order 2002 (as varied by the South Downs National Park Designation (Variation) Order 2004).

Following further public consultation in relation to four specific issues, the Planning Inspector, Mr Robert Neil Parry BA DipTP MRTPI, of the original Inquiry has been asked to consider, in the context of the terms of the original Inquiry, the following specific issues:

i.  any implications for the Designation Order (as varied by the Variation Order) arising directly as a result of the revised National Parks legislation – amendments to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 made by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, sections 59 and 99;
ii.  any implications for the Designation Order (as varied by the Variation Order) arising directly as a result of the High Court and Court of Appeal Judgments on the challenge by Meyrick Estate Management Ltd relating to the New Forest National Park;
iii. the possible alternative boundary line from north of Petersfield running east across to Pulborough; and
iv. those possible additional areas of land recommended for inclusion within the proposed South Downs National Park against which there have been objections.

The Inspector has also been asked to indicate if any other points raised during the further public consultation that was held during the period Monday 2nd July – Monday 24th September 2007 have caused him to change any of his recommendations.

A Pre-Inquiry Meeting will take place at 2pm on Tuesday 11 December 2007 in The Great Hall, The Hove Centre, Hove Town Hall, Norton Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 4AH.

The Inquiry will re-open at 10am on Tuesday 12 February 2008 at The Chatsworth Hotel, Steyne, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3DU. Details of the inquiry can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website.

Officials will write to everybody who made an objection or representation in that recent further consultation to ascertain if they want to appear at the Inquiry. Copies of the consultation responses will shortly be placed on deposit at Local Authority offices in the South Downs area.

Consultation details

The consultation period ran from Monday 2 July to Monday 13 August 2007 (inclusive) although the Secretary of State agreed to consider all objections and representations which were received by Monday 24th September 2007.

Documents released for public inspection

The following documents were available for public inspection at local authority offices in the South Downs area throughout the consultation period:

The local authority offices where the documents are available are listed in the notice placed in the national and local press – link below.

Other documents of relevance, already in the public domain, that were available for reference at the deposit venues are:   

In response to a number of public queries received during the consultation, the following documents were made available electronically:

 

Designation Order for a South Downs National Park and Public Inquiry

A Designation Order for a South Downs National Park was submitted by the Countryside Agency to the Secretary of State on 27 January 2003 and placed on public deposit until 28 February 2003 for receipt of objections and representations to the Order. Around 6,000 responses were received.

A public inquiry into the Order ran from 10 November 2003 to 23 March 2005. Details of the Inquiry can be found on the Planning Inspectorate's website. Defra received the Inspector’s full report in May 2006 covering the principle of a South Downs National Park, the boundary and administrative arrangements.

However, the designation process was put on hold in February 2006 following a High Court Judgment on a challenge to the New Forest National Park designation (known as the 'Meyrick' Judgment). This Judgment appeared to have implications for the South Downs as it potentially changed the way in which the criteria for National Park status have been understood since the 1950s. Defra appealed against the Judgment but this was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in February 2007.

To counter the Judgment, Defra also took action to clarify the National Parks legislation through the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006. The aim was to return the application of the criteria to that previously generally understood. The new clauses came into effect in May 2006.

Whilst the appeal was outstanding, it was not possible for the Minister to reach any decisions on a South Downs National Park. Consequently the designation process was halted. Defra wrote to all those who provided evidence to the South Downs National Park Public Inquiry and to other interested parties to inform them of the situation on 8 February 2006.

Following the dismissal of Defra's appeal, the designation process has been restarted. The first step was to establish if Natural England had any observations to make on implications for the Designation Order arising from the revisions to National Parks legislation made by the NERC Act and/or the Meyrick Judgments.

Defra is now inviting further public representations. Depending on the responses received Ministers will consider whether, the inquiry should be re-opened.

Defra wrote to interested parties on 16 March 2007 and again on 22 June 2007 advising on the situation.

Background and history

The South Downs have always been regarded as a very special part of the English countryside. In 1947, a committee chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse proposed special legal status for the finest landscapes in England and Wales to preserve them for the nation's benefit. This resulted in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 under which National Parks are designated.

The Downs were included amongst those areas which the Hobhouse Committee recommended should be designated as National Parks. But a decision against designation was taken in the 1950s, based on the assessment that ploughing of the downland due to agricultural intensification of the time had removed much of the recreational potential from the Downs. Instead, the Downs were given Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) status in recognition of their natural beauty. AONBs only have one criterion of natural beauty whereas National Parks have two criteria of recreation and natural beauty. Two AONBs, the Sussex Downs AONB and the East Hampshire AONB, currently cover most of the area proposed for a South Downs National Park.

Since the 1950s, there has been great pressure on the Downs from the combined effect of changes in agricultural practices, recreational opportunities, and development proposals. In 1999 the Minister for Environment asked the Countryside Agency to consider designating a National Park in the South Downs under the 1949 Act.

In asking this, the Minister pointed up the importance of providing countryside recreation opportunities close to where people live and expressed an aspiration to see more of the downland restored. Before making any decision on starting the designation process, the Countryside Agency reviewed the way in which the criteria for designating National Parks were being operated, to take more account of providing improved opportunities for open-air recreation close to where people live. Following this review, the Agency Board decided in April 2000 to consider the designation of a South Downs National Park.

Details of Natural England’s designation work can be found at: South Downs designation.

Arundel Variation Order

On 5 January 2004, the Countryside Agency made a Variation Order to the South Downs National Park (Designation) Order 2002 to include land at Arundel within the boundaries of the proposed National Park. The Variation Order was on public deposit from 2 February to 1 March 2004 for receipt of objections and representations which were heard as part of the South Downs National Park Inquiry.

This land was initially considered by the Agency to meet the criteria for a National Park but was excluded from the Designation Order boundary because it was earmarked for a proposed bypass at Arundel.

Following the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision in July 2003 not to proceed with the bypass for the immediate future, the Agency made the Variation Order to include the land in the proposed park.

Contacts

Sponsorship, Landscape & Recreation Division
Zone 1/03
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay
Bristol BS1 6EB

Tel: 0117 372 8532

Page last modified: 25 October 2007
Page published: 26 July 2004

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs