Have we seen the full benefit?

Last week saw the publication of the South Downs Visitor Survey.  This outlines the impact and benefits of visitors to the South Downs National Park.  The headline story is that visitors spent £464 million in the local economy in 2011/12, supporting 8,200 jobs.  Nationally (in England & Wales), this places the South Downs third in terms of overall spend in National Parks: the Lake District was first with £952 million a year and the Pembrokeshire Coast second with £498 million a year.

However, underneath these headlines are some interesting statistics.  In total, there were 46.3 million day visits, the vast majority of which (over 80%) were made by people who live in the National Park or who made a day trip from home, i.e not far away.  The latter are likely to live in the many neighbouring towns and cities such as Eastbourne, Brighton & Hove, Worthing, Crawley, Portsmouth, Winchester, etc.  Most of these people (88%) were aware they were visiting a National Park.

Awareness of the National Park was also high amongst local businesses, with only 6 businesses not being aware that they were in the National Park.  Some businesses believe that the National Park has helped increase turnover and that can then have a knock-on benefit for others locally.  For example a pub serving local food can generate more demand for local produce helping both it and local producers in the process.

Overall though, it is clear that the number of overseas and overnight visitors is relatively small.  This is an area where there are opportunities for growth.  There is also a need for more visitor accomodation within the National Park, particularly serving the South Downs Way and other key recreational routes.  However, there is probably not the need for larger scale visitor accomodation within the area.  This can often be provided in the larger settlements surrounding the Park, particularly the holiday towns on the south coast, which have significant capacity already.  These areas will also be more appropriate locations for large scale development, if new development is needed, although Petersfield, Midhurst and Lewes could probably accomodate some facilities.

There is a danger of looking at the National Park in isolation and the obvious element missing from this study was the impact of the National Park on the economies of the surrounding settlements.  Visitors may well be drawn to the seaside towns, for example, for a number of reasons, part of which might include visiting the South Downs.  This may or may not accrue a benefit to the National Park economy but the National Park will have contributed to its surrounding economies.

When these benefits are taken into account, this could mean that the economic value of the South Downs is far greater than estimated by this study and something that needs to be considered in the future.

On the bus

Paul’s bus with some of the crowd

Last week in Lewes, saw the launch of a bus with a difference.  Named after Paul Millmore, long time South Downs campaigner and Network member, the gleaming hybrid bus, with fuel consumption 30-35% less than a standard bus, was launched by Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

Helping with unveiling the bus name was Bridget Millmore, Paul’s widow, and Roger French, managing director of Brighton & Hove Bus Company.  Watching was the Mayor of Lewes, Councillor Michael Chartier, along with a crowd of over 70.

Roger French, Bridget Millmore and Norman buy cialis online Baker MP unveil Paul’s name

Brighton & Hove Buses has a popular tradition of naming its buses after someone (who has died) with a strong local connection and who has made a significant contribution to the area in some way or another.  After his death earlier this year, Paul’s name was put forward.  It was accepted in recognition of the huge role he played in the National Park campaign and conservation generally, his love of Lewes, and his active contribution to community life.

Appropriately, the bus is being brought into service on the 28 route from Brighton to Lewes, which passes through the National Park and Lewes.  It is a fitting tribute to a person who gave so much and with so much passion.

So don’t be shocked if you see Paul back on the streets of Lewes.  Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to take a trip with him through the National Park.

Transport funding success

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) have both been successful in securing funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund with their joint bids with

the South Downs National Park Authority.  ESCC has been awarded £1.571 million over the next 3 years for its travel choices for Lewes, while HCC has been awarded £3.81 million for sustainable transport in England’s newest national parks, the New Forest and South Downs.

Last month we reported that the decision on the funding for these projects had been delayed.  Now it seems the Department for Transport has satisfied itself that the schemes are sound and deserve funding.  However, neither project received the total amount that was bid for.

Both projects are very welcome and should help promote travel by means other than the car, while reducing carbon emissions and supporting the local economy.  However, whether ultimately they will be successful is very much open to question with rail fares rising above inflation, fuel duty rebate for public transport operators being cut in August (in sharp contrast to fuel duty not now increasing in August) and West Sussex County Council cutting back on bus services including the no 62 to Midhurst.

Park transport bids left in limbo

The South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) bids for funding under the Local Sustainable Transport Fund have been left in limbo following an announcement on 24 May about 30 projects which will receive funding.  Up to 18 out of the 53 bids received will find out ‘shortly’ whether they have been successful or not.  No reasons have been given for the delay by the Department for Transport.

The SDNPA has joined forces with the New Forest National Park Authority and Hampshire County Council to submit a bid around changing travel behaviour for people accessing the Parks for recreational purposes to boost the local economy while cutting carbon emissions.

In its other bid it is working with East Sussex County Council around improving walking, cycling and public transport for people going about their daily lives, living and working in Lewes.  The aim is to boost the local economy while reducing the impact of this activity on the National Park.  This second bid is quite different from the joint bid with the New Forest in that it is not specifically aimed at tourists and recreational travel.

Road traffic already has a big impact on the special qualities of the South Downs.  Given the Government’s seeming determination to increase bus and rail fares, the former through cuts in the fuel duty rebate that bus operators receive, this is likely to get worse.  This is exacerbated by local authorities cutting funding for rural bus services as their budgets are squeezed.  That is why it is essential that the two bids for the National Park are successful.

Biosphere bid to launch

On Tuesday, 22 May, (International Day for Biodiversity) the Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership will launch its bid for the South Downs between the River Adur and River Ouse plus the urban area of Brighton & Hove, to become a Biosphere reserve.

A Biosphere reserve is a UNESCO designation of excellence which if agreed would give international recognition to this local environment and its management.  Read Tony Whitbread’s (Chief Exec of Sussex Wildlife Trust) blog on the Biosphere for more detailed information, plus find out about the launch on our Events page.

The Biosphere partnership is made up of local authorities and a number of members from the South Downs Network.  Also involved are the South Downs National Park Authority, Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, Dorothy Stringer High School, University of Brighton, Natural England and the Environment Agency.  For more information or to become a Friend of the Biosphere, view the Biosphere website.

Tribute to Paul Millmore

Paul at the start of the South Downs Way

As many people know, Paul Millmore passed away peacefully on Sunday morning.  A tragic loss for his family, but also for the many people whose lives he touched throughout his career. For anyone who knew him, he was a veritable force of nature with his bushy beard, red braces and indefatigable Yorkshire spirit.  He was passionate, imaginative and determined in furthering conservation and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

He was one of the first people to reignite the calls for a South Downs National Park in the 1980s and was a stalwart member of the South Downs Campaign throughout its 20 year existence.  He lived to see the successful creation of the National Park and it was his drive and energy that was largely responsible for the inclusion of Lewes.  No one who was at the inquiry can forget the look on the inspector’s face as Paul thrust a large knife into a block of clay to demonstrate how well Lewes was embedded within the South Downs’ landscape.

His one regret was the failure to get the marine area included in the National Park, but even then he convinced the inspector of the value of doing so, but unfortunately not the Government.  Even so this setback was far outweighed by the success of the National Park and the many other areas he helped to change for the better.  From the tributes that have poured in to date, it is clear that his spirit will live on and his legacy will be felt for many generations to come.

In the meantime the South Downs Network has lost a valued member of its executive and a true friend and supporter.  Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.