South Downs National Park: 10th Anniversary

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:19 pm, 12th January 2021

I am very glad that my hon. Friend had that opportunity to intervene, given that the subject is important to him. I enjoyed speaking to the APPG recently. The South Downs is now famed for its dark skies. Given that it has so many people living near it, it is interesting that it still manages to have these wonderful clear dark skies, where we can see all the stars. There are five protected dark sky reserves across England—Exmoor, near me, a wonderful place, one of my favourites—Cranborne Chase, the Yorkshire Dales, the North Yorkshire Moors and the South Downs, which has recently become an international dark sky reserve, for which it is to be absolutely commended. It brings so many millions of people into touch with the magical qualities of seeing a clear dark sky, with the whole cosmos around. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the national park is within an hour and a half’s journey of London and other big centres. Many people will be able to benefit from that status.

My hon. Friend referred to one of the key roles of national parks, as local planning authorities. They can influence developments in their areas and act as statutory consultees. The South Downs must be commended for its handling of the West Sussex A27 Arundel bypass, which led to an interesting and successful outcome. The proposed new A27 would have involved building new roads in the park, but as a result of the intervention during the consultation process by the authority and other partners—the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Natural England—it will now go south of the national park, avoiding the degradation of natural beauty. That is only one of many examples where national parks have made key interventions to protect our landscapes and deliver their important statutory function.

My hon. Friend also touched on one other thing. With the Government having given the green light, I am pleased that the national park authority has taken responsibility for the Seven Sisters country park, named after the famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, which are on one of Britain’s finest unspoilt coastlines and a haven for wildlife and migratory birds. The South Downs national park authority has ambitious plans to improve the country park by bringing in much-needed management and investment to increase the visitor experience, the condition of the site of special scientific interest and the long-term plans to develop community programmes for schoolchildren from urban areas. The investment will promote and increase opportunities for people to access and explore the landscape in myriad ways, including by canoeing, cycling and walking.

It is not possible for our national landscapes to thrive and be the heart of our nation without the right investment, which is why, in the Chancellor’s November 2020 spending review announcement for the next financial year, a commitment was made to invest more than £75 million in national parks and AONBs. The commitment represents £20 million in new funding for such landscapes and confirms the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the environment is a key part of our economic recovery plan, as clearly demonstrated in the Prime Minister’s recently announced 10-point green plan.

The 10-point plan will take forward so many measures and put climate change, nature restoration and the improvement of biodiversity right at the heart of all that we do. Indeed, we also have the green recovery challenge fund, of which £40 million has already been allocated to projects all across the country that will enhance nature and create more jobs. There is a huge opportunity there, and the second tranche of that fund, worth another £40 million, is about to open. Lots of non-governmental organisations and other organisations want to apply for that money.

Also on our environmental commitment, the Environment Bill is of course making progress through the House. It brings forward everything in our 25-year environment plan, including the commitment to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030. So much is going on in this space, and rightly so, because it is going to be so important for our future and our recovery.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this wonderful subject to our attention today and allowing us to share with him the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the South Downs national park. I again congratulate him and all those involved on their superb work. I am very much looking forward to coming to the South Downs—when time permits and we are able—to experience some of it for myself, to see some of those glorious creatures and perhaps, Madam Deputy Speaker, to pop into those pubs and sample that sparkling wine.