Monday 24 September 2007

Put the western Weald back in the South Downs National Park

Two years ago there was a Public Inquiry into a National Park for the South Downs. This was only the most recent event in the long running battle to gain proper recognition for the area. I believe the first proposal to protect the area in this way was in 1929, and it was on the original list of National Parks back in 1947. However, the public Inquiry was just the latest development and we have been waiting to see what the Inspector recommended.

I suppose there is good news and bad news. At least the concept of a National Park for the area has been supported. This is to be welcomed. Also there are some extensions recommended by the inspector to the Park. One of these is the inclusion of Woods Mill, the Trust's HQ, so we are very pleased about that. But the recommendation to exclude the western Weald, we consider, is ill-judged.

Why exclude the western Weald?
The argument to exclude this area seems poor. The claim seems to be that the western Weald, whilst being of national landscape quality, is not sufficiently similar to the main block of the South Downs to justify inclusion. This may have a sort of logic about it, but this approach is completely at variance to how National Parks are identified. Making a National Park that just sits on one geological feature (in this case the chalk of the South Downs ridge) is a completely new and fictitious criterion for drawing the boundary.

The fallacy of this approach is clear if you try to put a logical boundary roughly in the area that the Inspector suggests - it isn't possible! You find you inevitably have to wiggle a line through a landscape so crammed with wildlife, historical and landscape interest that any line is purely an act of the imagination. The high quality landscape runs from the top of the South Downs ridge and north well into the western Weald. That's why the original Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty boundary was drawn the way it was!

No-one seems to support this boundary. The vast majority of local people are outraged, first at the idea that their landscape is somehow now second rate, and also because there is a real risk that the area could loose it's protected status and so be subject to pressure for housing development. (Someone more cynical than I might look at the co-incidence of a White Paper requiring 10% more housing than previously with a proposal for a reduced National Park area and therefore fear for their local area!)

What to do?

It's now too late to respond to the Inspector's report but signing the on-line petition is still worth while. So please log in to: