Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 12:55 UK

South Downs National Park agreed

Two fishermen on the path to Cuckmere Haven from Seaford head in Seven Sisters

The South Downs area has been given national park status almost 60 years to the day since it was recommended.

The South Downs, which covers parts of Sussex and Hampshire, was among 12 areas identified for national parks in the 1940s.

Environment Minister Hilary Benn has said the area will become England's ninth national park.

But Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson said the views of local people and local authorities had been ignored.

The announcement means the area will be given the highest level of protection under the planning system.

Mr Benn said the new protected area varied slightly from original boundaries drawn up in 2002, but were in line with the planning inspector's recommendations following a 19-month public inquiry.

The Western Weald, Lewes and the village of Ditchling are inside the park's boundary, and further additions depend on consultation, he added.

Some people have been waiting for this for over 60 years
Chris Todd

He said: ""It is fitting that, in this year, the 60th anniversary of the radical legislation that gave birth to National Parks, we are celebrating an addition to the family.

"National park status can be a real boost for the local economy, attracting new visitors, businesses and investment, but above all, the South Downs' wonderful countryside will be protected forever for the enjoyment of everyone."

The decision has been branded "profoundly undemocratic" by Eastbourne Conservative MP Nigel Waterson who said it could affect plans to improve the A27.

"Of course a National Park can bring some benefits, including tourism.

"But ministers have ignored the views of almost all local authorities in the area, as well as local people.

Richard Harris: "It's got a great intimacy as well as the broad sweep"

"I have two major concerns affecting my constituents. First, the extension of the boundary of the proposed park to include Lewes could put a block on long-overdue improvements to the A27.

"Also, there is a real worry that local planning applications will be taken out of local control and decided by an unelected quango."

'Historic day'

Defra said the national park designation order could not be confirmed until the further consultation had finished and a proper decision had been made on additional areas.

That probably meant the park would not be formally created until early in 2011, a statement added.

The South Downs National Park is the first to be created in England since the New Forest in 2005.

Beachy Head Lighthouse, seen from the shore below Beachy Head

Before the announcement, Chris Todd, manager of the South Downs Campaign which has fought for national park status for the Downs since 1990, said he was confident it would be good news.

"It's going to be a historic day," he said. "Some people have been waiting for this for over 60 years. We feel quite young having only campaigned for 20 years."

On Monday, the 60th anniversary of the introduction of laws to protect rural areas, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) urged the government to go ahead with the planned park.

The exact boundary for the national park has been the subject of debate for a number of years.

The inclusion of the Western Weald, lying between Petersfield and Pulborough, had divided people.

The area, which is made up of grassland and sandstone forests, was not included in the original 60-year-old report because it was geographically different to the rest of the South Downs.

Area covered by South Downs National Park

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