The South Downs National Park Authority has taken the first but important step in mapping out its vision for what the South Downs will look like in 2050. While containing elements of motherhood and apple pie, the vision contains some clear statements about important aspects of how the Park should look and operate and how people will interact with it in 40 years time.
The vision will now guide how the Management Plan is developed and how the Park Authority prioritises its work. It sits alongside the already agreed South Downs’ Special Qualities. The South Downs Network hopes that the Park Authority will shortly publish its State of the Park report, in effect an audit of important features within the South Downs, that will help create the benchmark for judging the success or failure of the Management Plan.
For some, the Park Authority appears to have been slow to get going, but that is only natural when starting from scratch. It has to develop its own priorities and strategies, and when done in an inclusive way that takes time. Hopefully, the Management Plan will be completed next year and the Local Plan shortly after that. Then the Park Authority can hopefully focus more on delivery than policy development and change on the ground will start to become more evident.
However, we must remain patient. It has taken 80 years to achieve a South Downs National Park, so we must not fret over the relatively short time it is taking the Park Authority to get its house in order. Equally, change does not come quickly as can be seen by how long it takes to re-establish species rich chalk grassland and other important habitats. The same is true when challenging established ways of working and forging new partnerships.
In a sense this vision marks the start of something new, helping to shape a new mindset for the next 40 years. At a time of economic gloom and international upheaval, the work of the National Park Authority offers us hope for the future: the glimse of something different, something better.