The South Downs National Park Authority is the statutory Planning Authority for the National Park area. It is the 8th largest in Britain in terms of planning applications received each year and also one of the largest in terms of the geographical area it covers.
On 12 November 2009 Secretary of State for Environment, Hilary Benn, signed the Order confirming the establishment of the South Downs National Park (SDNP). This followed extensive discussion and debate and a lengthy public inquiry. Articles covering this event are on both the DEFRA and Natural England websites.
It is the ninth National Park in England and covers more than 600 square miles of Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex.
This briefing note covers some of the main points arising from the Secretary of State’s announcement. Full information on the announcement is available in his decision letter of 31st March (181kb)
After lengthy consideration through public inquiries, held between November 2003/ March 2005 and February/July 2008, the Secretary of State considered that the South Downs met the legal tests for designating a new national park, set out in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
These tests focus on the special landscape character and quality of the area, and its ability to provide opportunities for the public to enjoy open air recreation. A SDNP was first proposed in the late 1940s.
The SDNP extends from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east. It covers not only the chalk downland, but also the varied landscapes of the Western Weald to the north of the chalk and running up to the Sussex/Surrey border near Haslemere.
About 120,000 people live in the designated area. It includes the towns of Petersfield, Midhurst and Lewes, but not Arundel.
More detailed maps are available from Natural England
The Secretary of State has proposed six small additions to the National Park which have not previously been the subject of public consultation. Two of these are in our area at Plumpton and alongside the A27 road.
These proposed additions will be the subject of further public consultation between April 20 and 13 July 2009. The consultation documents can be seen at Southover House.
All the other boundaries are now fixed, unless the subject of legal challenge.
After consultation on the small boundary additions, the Secretary of State will put Orders before Parliament in the autumn of 2009 seeking establishment of a South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) and revoking the existing Sussex Downs and East Hampshire Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).
If agreed by Parliament, the SDNPA will come into being in April 2010, as a "shadow authority" and then take up legal responsibilities from April 2011.
In parallel, the Government will appoint an "Establishment Officer" with the job of setting up the new SDNPA and liaising with the existing local authorities in the South Downs. There will be a great deal of work to do in getting the new authority established.
The duties of the National Park authority are to:
The SDNPA are required to represent both national and local interests. The Government will be consulting on the overall number of members for the new authority. It envisages somewhere in the range 29-37 members. Just over half are district or county councillors appointed by councils with land in the park.
About a quarter are parish councillors chosen from parish councils in the park. The remainder are from an open recruitment exercise to seek people with particular skills and expertise relevant to the SDNP’s work (e.g farming, forestry, nature conservation, open air recreation, local culture)
The key responsibilities of a National Park Authority are:
All other local government services (e.g housing, building control, environmental health, highways, social services, education) remain with the existing local councils. However, the SDNPA is expected to adopt a different model to the other national parks for delivery of planning services. In his decision letter of 31 March, the Secretary of State (paragraph 88) says:
"Given its large population, and the number of local authorities having land in the Park, the Secretary of State takes the view that the South Downs National Park Authority should delegate its development control work as far as is possible ton its constituent local authorities. He recognises that this is a decision for the NPA, but will base his own decisions ( for example on membership and funding) on the presumption that that delegation will, so far as is possible , occur , until such time as the NPA may decide differently."
DEFRA, Natural England and the South Downs local authorities will commence discussions shortly on how such a delegated planning system might work. This is likely to involve a complex web of agreements covering the extent of delegation, performance standards, computer protocols and financial mechanisms. No details are yet available.
The National Park is entirely funded by the Government. However, the SDNPA will be able to supplement its budget by income from any visitor centres and car parks it runs, and by bidding for various external funds.
One of the early tasks of the Establishment Officer and the incoming SDNPA will be to establish a financial budget. To do so, it will need to look at what staff, office and other accommodation, vehicles and equipment it will need to fulfil its functions and any capital spending or grants it may wish to promote.
Earlier work for the 2003/5 public inquiry suggested an annual budget of around £6 million. This will need to be reviewed and updated.
There are still housing, employment and community development needs to be met and these have to be weighed against any impact on the objectives of National Park designation. In 2007-8 (the last full year national figures), 85% of all planning applications in the eight existing English National Parks were approved. Coincidentally, that is exactly the same % level as in Lewes District over that same period.
The main effect will be on planning services in the area.
Most of the areas covered by the proposed SDNP are already covered by the Sussex Downs AONB. We have operated very restrictive planning policies in this area for many years, in order to conserve and enhance the nationally important landscape. LDC will continue to do so. The main effect of SDNP designation in these areas is an additional focus on promoting public enjoyment of the area.
The significant additions to the area of nationally important landscape created by the SDNP are the town of Lewes, the village of Ditchling, Tidemills and a few other smaller areas. The SDNP will mean that "permitted development rights" (in other words, what you can do without needing to seek planning permission) will be reduced in these areas. These reductions in development rights will be the same as in the existing AONB and existing conservation areas, such as the historic cores of Lewes and Ditchling.
Therefore, the effect of SDNP designation is that, initially, it will only provide additional planning controls in places such as the Landport, Malling and Neville estates in Lewes, the newer parts of Ditchling, and parts of the adjacent countryside. These are the places which do not have the additional controls already conferred by either AONB or conservation area status.
In due course, the incoming SDNPA will want to review and harmonise planning policies across the whole South Downs area. It will be preparing its own Local Development Framework document extending from Winchester right across to Eastbourne. This may eventually mean some planning policy changes to support the statutory objectives of National Park designation (see 5 above)
The setting up of the SDNPA, and any new delegation arrangements for planning applications, will mean some significant changes to the way LDC delivers its planning functions generally. This will need a very large amount of work over the next two years.
With the SDNPA becoming the planning authority for the Park, it will have considerable influence over a range of other matters on land within the designated area, such as managing flood risk, conservation of the historic environment, economic development, transport and parking, provision of affordable housing, cleaning up contaminated land, air quality and work on climate change.
The other main implication for Lewes District Council will be tourism and visitor services. The designation of a national park can be expected to draw many more visitors to the area. This will mean that we will need to consider how best we integrate our Tourist Information Centres and tourist promotion activity with the work of the SDNPA. The challenge will be how to secure additional economic benefits without harming the special local environment that visitors come to see.
PDF: the effect that the proposed South Downs National Park will have on planning decisions in the Lewes District
South Downs National Park Leaflet (0.27mb)