HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 c862
16. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

If he will make a statement on the progress towards the establishment of a national park in the south downs. [112188]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

Following my request last September, the Countryside Agency has reviewed the interpretation of the statutory criteria for designation of national parks, taking into account modern needs for open-air recreation close to where people live. Following that review, the agency board is expected to decide at its April meeting how to proceed in respect of a national park in the south downs.

Dr. Turner

As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, there are those who have still not accepted the principle of the protection of national park status for areas in the south downs. The area to be circumscribed by the new national park is therefore critically important, and the intention of establishing such a park will be entirely subverted if too many—or, indeed, any—significant areas are excluded from the existing area of outstanding natural beauty. Does my right hon. Friend accept that, to protect an area and to defend it against pressures, whatever they are—there are many on the south downs—protection should start at the margins?

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend is right to identify the two particular issues that have to be determined by the Countryside Agency. The first is the identification of the boundary. The agency is starting with the south downs and with the east Hampshire AONBs, but, as I have said, it has reviewed the criteria and will have to decide on the boundaries that are appropriate in accordance with the new criteria. The other issues that remain to be determined are planning and financial arrangements. I also expect the agency to deal with those as a matter of priority.

Forward to