South Downs National Park: 10th Anniversary

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:03 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 7:03 pm, 12th January 2021

I thank my hon. Friend for his timely intervention and for touching on a topic that is of concern to many residents. I not only hold out the prospect of increased police numbers helping to police and make more safe our rural roads, but thank the Government—although I will hold their feet to the fire—for their recent commitment to upgrade the A27 with a new route that will allow significant traffic that currently uses the national park to bypass it and proceed elsewhere.

Nature recovery through partnership working has been at the heart of the work of the South Downs over the last decade, from major projects such as being one of 12 DEFRA-funded nature improvement areas, to smaller nature initiatives in partnership with landowners and local communities. An example of the latter is Steyning Downland, which is run by over 100 volunteers. It carries out local ecology surveys and habitat conservation but also combats local loneliness, something that is close to my heart. It is one of many such schemes across the national park.

As part of the Environment Bill, DEFRA proposes that every part of England should be covered by a local nature recovery strategy. Five pilots are under way, but they are all based on county or unitary authority boundaries. I would like to see the national park given the chance to be at the heart of its own local nature recovery strategy, rather than an exclusively county-based approach. Will the Minister kindly give that her consideration?

On this 10th anniversary, let me conclude by looking ahead to what the park’s second decade might hold. First, I hope that it continues to be well supported by the Minister and her Department, in terms of both financial certainty and the strengthening of certain powers that will allow the park to carry out its tasks further. Secondly, I hope that the recent integration of the Seven Sisters country park, a major change in the national park’s operations, is successful and additive but does not detract from valuable work elsewhere. Thirdly, I hope, perhaps parochially, that we will see the long-awaited transformation of the derelict Shoreham cement works into low-carbon eco homes.

In its first 10 years, the South Downs national park has established itself as an innovative, partnership-based organisation where people and place come together. Tonight, we wish all involved well and express the hope that something that is so important to our nation’s future as our national park survives, thrives and has a second decade that is even more successful in achieving all its many goals.