On 31 March 2009, Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced his decision to confirm the designation of the South Downs National Park. The Government aim to establish a National Park Authority in April 2010. It is likely that during 2011, the authority to determine planning applications will transfer from County, District and Borough Councils to the National Park Authority.
The creation of the National Park and the potential transfer of planning powers has caused concern amongst the local planning authorities (LPAs) affected by the creation of the National Park. They have approached DEFRA with two models for planning decision making. One model sees the Park Authority designating power back to existing LPAs and the other gives LPAs the power to process and make recommendations on applications, but leaves the ultimate power of decision with the National Park Authority. This uncertainty with regards to working arrangements leaves the future planning process within the National Park unclear.
There are also concerns regarding how the planning policy framework would cope when existing planning authorities (such as Lewes) are split by the National Park, but still have strong links with and through it in social and economic terms. There would be further questions about how neighbouring LPAs Core Strategies would link to the National Parks, particularly when many of these Core Strategies are being drafted at present.
The impact of this decision on those that live, work and own land within the park over the next few years, whilst the decision making structure is established and implemented, remains to be seen. The National Park will introduce highly restrictive planning policy to protect the South Downs. This would likely allow only limited extension or changes to existing buildings, with new development limited to schemes that promote tourism and recreation in the area. If, therefore, you are currently considering development within the proposed National Park it would be advisable to initiate the planning process prior to the establishment of the National Park.