Smart Stuff!

Ever wanted to find out more about the area you’re in but don’t want to come across large interpretation boards every few hundred metres?  Well, that time has finally come.  The South Downs National Park Authority is currently trialling the latest technology to allow people with smart phones to find out more about the landscape they are visiting.

Small signs have been put up on 40 posts at 9 sites along the South Downs Way.  The signs, no wider than the width of a wooden post, contain a small amount of text, a Quick Response (QR) code, which can be scanned with a smart phone and allows the user to access, websites, video and audio commentary and other information about the local area.  In addition, the signs also have a tag embedded in them which enables people with smartphones with Near Field Communcation technology (NFC) to place their phone over the sign and without the bother of scanning a QR code, they can access the same information.

While this is fantastic news for people who want to find out more, it only works of course if you have a modern smart phone.  One of the concerns is that those people who don’t will be excluded from this.  This means that for the foreseeable future, there will still be a need for large interpretation boards at specific locations.  However, as more and more people take up the new technology, over time these are likely to disappear.  The exception of course is in those areas where there is no mobile reception.  But for some, that might just represent heaven.

Black Hole in the heart of Amberley

A pretty village situated on the South Downs Way, one of the most popular National Trails, at the centre of England’s newest National Park.  What better place could you imagine to run a profitable pub?

Yet local people in Amberley are having to fight to keep their pub, the Black Horse, some of whom see it as a fight for the very future of village.  The trouble started in March when the pub closed and the owner, a national chain, started selling off various pubs around the country because it was in too much debt.  Unfortunately, the Black Horse appears to have been sold to a property developer who wants to convert it into housing, rather than someone wanting to run it as a pub.

This has led to local people fighting a spirited campaign.  However, to date they have not been helped by the system, so it would seem.  Given the significance of the application to the socio-economic development of the village, and the importance of the pub in supporting people enjoying the recreational opportunities of the National Park, it is surprising that the South Downs National Park Authority has not called this application in already.  It is currently being handled by Horsham District Council on behalf of the Park Authority, but information about the proposed conversion is hard to find on Horsham’s website.

Villagers have fought and won many battles before such as over the future of their local shop, their local school and proposals for the Wildbrooks which are now an RSPB reserve.  They deserve to succeed again, but to do so they will need the backing of the Park Authority.  It should be taking a firm stance on this development proposal which will undermine National Park purposes as well as ripping out the heart of the village community.  It’s why many people fought the battle to get a National Park.  Now the Authority needs to step up to the plate and be counted.  It can only win it friends, as well as safeguarding village life in the centre of the Park.

New Park Authority member appointed

Earlier this month Diana Kershaw was appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment as a new Member of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).  She is one of the 7 national members on the SDNPA and replaces Susan Warren who stood down at the end of 2011.

Diana Kershaw has worked as a local authority transport and town planner, primarily in East London and was Head of Planning for Newham Council where she led the Stratford development initiatives. Following ten years as Director of Planning Transport and Development at Bristol City Council she worked for a business-led initiative looking at the future of the Bristol/Bath region. She has been a member of boards of the South West Regional Development Agency, business link, a primary care trust, a theatre company, the SW National Trust region, and was a member of Exmoor National Park Authority for seven years.

The Network wishes her all the best and hopes that with her experience she will make a useful contribution to the South Downs National Park, particularly as the Park Authority looks to develop its Core Strategy over the next few years.

National Park costs us less

One of the arguments for having a South Downs National Park was that it would bring in more funding to the area, while actually saving local people money.  An analysis of the figures now shows this to be correct.

This is contrary to what one local paper said recently when it claimed that the National Park Authority was costing Sussex residents £7 each.  Apart from forgetting that the National Park extends into Hampshire, it didn’t realise that the Park Authority’s budget of £11.4 million is not paid for solely by Hampshire and Sussex taxpayers.  Instead it is funded by the whole nation in recognition of its national importance, costing around 18 pence per person nationally.

However, this ignores the fact that around £3.5 million of the Park Authority’s budget is for planning which it has taken over from local authorities. Therefore this is not an extra cost for taxpayers. Taking this into account reduces the additional cost of the Park Authority to around 13 pence per person nationally.  This figure also ignores the fact that some national funding was given to the previous body managing the South Downs.  If this was included in the calculations, the additional cost would fall further still.

Another consideration is that before we had a National Park, local authorities previously paid the South Downs Joint Committee to manage the Downs. Now they no longer have to do this. Brighton & Hove City Council for example now saves around £80,000 a year, equivalent to a 32 pence per person saving.  In the rest of the Downs, the maths is more complex due to having two tier local authorities but the principle is the same.

Therefore overall, taxpayers in Sussex and Hampshire are likely to be better off.  In Brighton & Hove, the overall saving amounts to 19 pence per person per year.

Obviously, there were many other good reasons for wanting a National Park, but the fact that we are saving money while improving the conservation and protection of the South Downs is good news indeed.