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South Downs National Park

South DownsThe 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)

Establishing the National Park

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.

Area covered

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 the South Downs National Park website.

Running the National Park

The duties of the National Park authority are to:

The SDNPA are required to represent both national and local interests. Just over half of the members for the new authority 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 people with particular skills and expertise relevant to the SDNP’s work (e.g farming, forestry, nature conservation, open air recreation, local culture).

National Park responsibilities

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) said:

"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 to 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."


The National Park is entirely funded by the Government. However, the SDNPA are able to supplement their budget by income from any visitor centres and car parks they run, and by bidding for various external funds.

National Park development

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.

Effect on our services

The main effect is on planning services in the area.

Most of the areas covered by the proposed SDNP were already covered by the Sussex Downs AONB. Restrictive planning policies have operated 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 means that "permitted development rights" (in other words, what you can do without needing to seek planning permission) are reduced in these areas. These reductions in development rights are 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 only provides 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 previously conferred by the 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.

The setting up of the SDNPA, and delegation arrangements for planning applications, have brought some significant changes to the way LDC delivers its planning functions generally.

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 means 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
PDF South Downs National Park Leaflet (0.27mb)