7 June 2002

Join the national park debate

FARMERS are urged to grasp the chance to voice their views on plans to designate the South Downs as a national park by responding to the latest consultation.

The Countryside Agency published a local authority consultation paper on May 31 setting out what it proposes will be the final boundaries for the park and asking for comments about administration arrangements.

A spokesman for the agency urged people, including farmers, to make their views known by the Aug 16 deadline. "It is still very important that the public realise that they can still have a say, by talking to their local authorities about the responses they make," he said.

Shaun Leavey, NFU south east regional director, said he wanted to use the consultation as a chance to make points about financing and administration.

Mr Leavey said the issue of adequate funding was a key message he wanted to get across, as answers on the issue had not been forthcoming. "We have less and less indication of what resources will be available to the national park," he said. "It lacks merit without resources."

Whether farmers and landowners would be adequately represented on the National Park Board was another point that needed repeating, he said.

It would be potentially disastrous if there were not a significant number of land managers on the board, said Mr Leavey. "It will totally destroy any credibility the board will have with the local community."

The final question the union wanted to pose was why national park status was needed anyway, he said. Farmers were not against the idea altogether but much of the land was already classified as an area of outstanding natural beauty anyway and they wanted to know what national park status would achieve.

Mr Leavey said he would make similar points in his evidence to the public inquiry into proposals to designate the New Forest a national park.

DEFRA secretary, Margaret Beckett, announced last month that a public inquiry would have to take place, starting in Oct 2002, because several local authorities had objected to the Designation Order.

The union would stress the importance of protecting the traditional rights of the verderers, said Mr Leavey. These would be under threat if the government proceeded as planned rather than trying to create a tailor-made management body for the area, he said.

Verderers are regarded as the custodians of the New Forest, controlling almost all forms of development and agricultural use.

"We are determined the powers of the verderers should not be subjugated to a national park authority," said Mr Leavey. "We wish to see their role strengthened." &#42

Wary… Shaun Leavy will voice concerns at national park plans.