Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Thursday, 12 November 2009

South Downs becomes national park

Seven Sisters
The area includes the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs near Eastbourne

A new national park in the South Downs has been officially confirmed more than 60 years after the area was first earmarked for protected status.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn signed the order to create the park, stretching from Beachy Head in Sussex to the edge of Winchester in Hampshire.

The South Downs was given national park status in March, to approval from countryside and environmental groups.

The 632 sq-mile area becomes England's ninth national park.

The original park boundaries, drawn up in 2002, were contested, leading to legal wrangling and a protracted public inquiry.

'Unique downlands'

The new national park will include the Alice Holt site in east Hampshire as well as Green Ridge in Brighton, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

Mr Benn signed the order during a visit to Ditchling on Thursday at the end of the 60th anniversary year of national parks.

"The unique chalk downlands and heavy weald clay landscapes which make up this wonderful countryside will now be protected for everyone to enjoy," he said.

"National Park status will attract new visitors to the South Downs and bring investment into the local area."

'No greater protection'

The granting of National Park status was criticised by the Conservatives, who said the transfer of planning decisions from local councils to a new National Park Authority (NPA) was a step in the wrong direction.

Critics also said the National Park gave the South Downs landscapes no greater protection than they already had as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The South Downs Campaign, a coalition of 160 organisations, said it now wants to see swift action to ensure the new NPA is given the help it needs to make it a success.

John Songhurst, chairman of the South Downs Society, said: "The National Park means more can be done to protect our precious wildlife and enable it to thrive.

"The South Downs has been waiting for over 60 years for this protection, so there is a great deal to be done and the authority has its work cut out.

"We will be presenting the authority with suggestions for its priorities over the first months and years and offering the skills and assistance of our members with the tasks ahead."


Hilary Benn expresses his delight at being in the South Downs - "a special place on a special day"

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