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How can a National Park help Dorset’s economy?

The environment is Dorset’s greatest economic asset, worth at least £1.5 billion per year (DCC 2016 Report). For Dorset, the economy and environment are two sides of the same coin, and a National Park is the best way of ensuring Dorset makes the most of both.

An independent report The Economic Opportunities, Benefits and Wider Impacts of a Dorset and East Devon National Park has identified the economic opportunities and benefits which a National Park would offer Dorset. A NP would work in partnership with local communities and businesses, farmers, landowners, other local authorities and the not-for-profit sector, as well as with the Local Enterprise Partnership and Local Nature Partnership, to benefit Dorset’s economy, local communities and the environment.


National Parks have a statutory duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of their communities. They work pro-actively with communities and others to achieve appropriate development in the right places, and have a focus on meeting local housing needs, including affordable homes for young families and key workers. NPs are not against development and approve a higher percentage of planning applications than other local authorities, and do so more speedily.


A NP would attract inward investment; promote apprenticeships and accommodation for business start-ups; work with farmers and landowners to boost business opportunities and farm support; and promote higher added-value tourism county-wide. The internationally recognised National Park brand would make Dorset a global destination, add enormous strength to the area’s marketing offer in the UK and overseas, and give a permanent boost to our economy, county-wide. The government sees NPs as central to successful and resilient economies and thriving communities in England’s finest rural areas.


Our close comparator the South Downs NP secured around £50m additional central Government core grant, plus some £25m project funding, in its first 5 years, all invested to the benefit of local communities and business.



Would the economic benefits of a National Park extend beyond the NP area?

The economic opportunities and benefits of a NP would extend Dorset-wide, including neighbouring areas and “gateway” communities, through the “halo” effect of a NP.


Tourism, for example, is Dorset’s largest economic sector. A National Park could coordinate and lead a county-wide tourism strategy, and provide the Unique Selling Point which Dorset currently lacks. The internationally-recognised National Park quality brand would add enormous strength to Dorset’s marketing offer and reinforce the whole county’s attractiveness to UK and overseas visitors. Comments about the NP’s tourism potential have included “A NP would make Dorset a global visitor destination,” and “This NP is a marketing dream.”


The NP would attract new investment, be an attractive location for business including micro-businesses (Dorset’s fastest-growing sector,) and act as a magnet for families and young people looking to enjoy an area with the widest-ranging recreational opportunities. Businesses in the conurbation and other gateway towns would benefit from the NP on their doorstep.


The South Downs NP has developed a landscape-scale approach to farm support and whole-estate plans, benefitting farmers and landowners within and beyond the NP designated area.



Will Dorset get £10 million a year funding from the Government for the NP?

The independent report on the economic benefits of a National Park suggests that the NP can attract some £10 million of annual funding from central Government. In the South Downs NP, for example, this is spent in the local economy through partnership working with local authorities, communities, businesses, landowners and farmers, voluntary groups. The budgets of NPs enable them to leverage in more funding through competitive bidding and partnership working. Examples from the South Downs NP include:

  • Promoting employment space, including incubator units and rural growth hubs, to support business growth and attract new business investment.

  • Support for local businesses by providing a free marketing toolkit to help capitalise on the national and international NP brand.

  • Securing a Food Enterprise Zone with £1.9 m to support the production and marketing of local products.

  • Working with landowners through ‘Whole Estate Plans’ to help them to secure increased investment, and with individual farmers to help them to secure financial support, appropriate advice and practical help.

  • Working with groups of farmers to secure special funding available for landscape-scale conservation. NP status could become increasingly significant for future farm funding in the context of agricultural policy changes associated with leaving the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

  • Securing over £5m for Local Sustainable Transport Funding, working with the Local Highways Authorities, to support both local people and the accessibility of the NP to tourism. Almost £4m has also been secured to improve cycling routes.


How would a National Park help Dorset’s tourism sector?

Tourism is Dorset’s largest economic sector, but some key trends are not favourable [eg UK and overseas visitor trips and nights spent in Dorset have been declining, as has the spend by overseas visitors.]


Dorset lacks a county-wide USP (unique selling point) and its tourism offer is fragmented. The internationally recognized National Park brand will provide an immediate national and international “destination status” for Dorset. A National Park would work in partnership with tourism organisations and businesses, local authorities and communities, to help develop an effective Dorset-wide tourism strategy, increase the value of tourism and extend the season. A NP would boost Dorset’s offer, bring county-wide benefits to the economy and employment opportunities, and promote the heritage towns as well as the coast. Surveys in the South Downs NP and Northumbria NP show that visitors to NPs stay longer and spend more, and that the NP brand benefits the wider economy.


The South Downs NP has helped leverage additional funding for sustainable travel initiatives, rural buses and cycling infrastructure. NPs bring resources and expertise to help manage and spread the effects of higher value-adding tourism and recreation.



How can a National Park help improve Dorset’s infrastructure?

National Parks have a duty to foster the economic and social wellbeing of their communities, and the government wants to see NPs at the heart of successful, resilient and sustainable economies and thriving rural communities.


A NP, working in partnership with the LEP, local authorities and businesses can help communities address local infrastructure issues, help secure appropriate infrastructure investment and promote sustainable economic growth. For example, a Dorset NP could strengthen the case for the substantial investment needed to improve rail services for SW England.


As planning authorities, NPs work with providers to encourage appropriate proposals in such areas as improved water management and quality, and have been supported with sustainable development funds only available to NPs. The South Downs NP has worked with transport partners to promote sustainable transport such as rural bus services and has leveraged additional funding for sustainable travel initiatives and cycling infrastructure. SDNP businesses and residents have also benefitted from investment in high-speed broadband.



Wouldn’t a NP mean duplication with other local authorities and an extra layer of bureaucracy?

Not at all. A NP would be an asset and close partner for the Dorset Council and assist in the delivery of a shared agenda to benefit Dorset’s economy, communities and environment. The AONB would disappear.
As NPs are core funded by grants from central government, the NP would bring additional funding to the area. Our close comparator the South Downs NPA secured some £100m in DEFRA core grants and additional project funding in its first 5 years. The National Park would pay the Dorset Council for the services that it buys in, thus freeing Council resources for other priorities across rural Dorset. 
The National Park would work with the Dorset Council to create a seamless planning resource, develop compatible dovetailed plans for rural Dorset and provide a one-stop-shop service for planning advice as part of a streamlined customer focussed approach. The Dorset Council will have many priorities. The National Park can help deliver the environmental agenda as well as support the Dorset Council and the LEP in delivering an economic stimulus for Dorset.


How might a National Park help to manage tourism pressures?


Visitor numbers and their associated pressures are already high in Purbeck and various honeypot areas, especially around the coast, and can probably be expected to rise further; this reflects the area’s natural and commercial attractions and is independent of National Park designation. 

National Parks, as part of their purposes and duties, work with others to help manage tourism pressures. For Purbeck District Council, when it undertook a detailed evaluation of the NP proposal, this was seen as a clear benefit of NP designation. Currently stakeholders including PDC, the National Trust, Natural England and the RSPB, struggle with this issue and cannot effectively address it. Though local authorities can in principle undertake such work, they have no specific remit to do so, and their resources are under pressure from other priorities such as education and social services. AONBs do not have this remit. NPs, however, have both specific responsibilities enabling them to manage tourism pressures and the resources to work with partners to do so. 

There is a range of ways in which a Dorset NP could help, including working with others to develop a Dorset-wide tourism strategy. This would help to extend the visitor season throughout the year, promote eco-tourism and heritage tourism as well as interest in parts of Dorset, such as the heritage towns of N Dorset, which are currently under-appreciated and whose local economies suffer as a result. The evidence from studies of the South Downs and other NPs is that NP designation increased the value (rather than volume) of tourism to communities and businesses with visitors spending more and staying longer. A NP would also work to support and promote sustainable transport, including working with train, bus and other operators for joined-up services. The South Downs NP secured around £9m for sustainable transport initiatives and provision, including cycle ways and bus services that benefited rural communities as well as visitor attractions. 

NPs, as part of their remit to promote the understanding and enjoyment of the area’s special qualities, work to encourage everyone, visitors and residents of all ages, to care for and respect the area. On the ground, the NP’s ranger service is a vital resource for communities, businesses, farmers and land managers as well as a key contact with visitors, tourism providers and event organisers.


Dorset is not alone in facing tourism pressures. In the following article, the CEO of the South Downs NP addresses the issue.





How diversified is the economy of the South Downs National Park? Is it, for example, overdependent on tourism? Are young people leaving the area?


Business Data

There were approximately 55,500 employees in the South Downs National Park in 2018, an increase of 1,530 or 2.84% between 2016 and 2019 according to the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) 2018. Over the same period, the neighbouring comparator areas have all shown lower employment growth.


The largest sector in the South Downs National Park is the Professional, Scientific & Technical sector which makes up 21.02% of all businesses, indicating a relatively knowledge intensive business base compared to the neighbouring areas of the Solent and South East LEPs. Using the ONS broad knowledge economy definition, there were 2,645 business in 2019 in the knowledge economy in the South Downs National Park, 32.51% of the total of 8,135 businesses. Since 2016, only the South Downs NP and the Enterprise M3 LEP area have shown a positive growth in the percentage of knowledge economy businesses during the reference period 2016 - 2019, whereas Solent, South East LEP, Coast to Capital LEP and the South East region as a whole all saw a decline.


The visitor economy is a significant part of the South Downs National Park’s economy and benefits from National Park designation. Research commissioned by the South Downs NP shows that in 2018 there were 19.08 million visitors and 20.4 million visitor days producing an economic contribution of £436.81m at 2018 prices. There were 860 visitor economy businesses in the South Downs National Park in 2019 representing 10.57% of the business population.


Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing makes up 8.91% of all registered businesses.


Population Data

There were 117,832 residents in the South Downs National Park in 2018 according to ONS mid-year population estimates, an increase of 5,340 or 4.75% since 2011.


The 65+ age group has continued to increase at the fastest rate and now makes up 25.35% of the population in the National Park. Those aged 16 to 24 have increased by around 5% from 9,832 to 10,311 between 2011 - when the South Downs NP became operational - and 2018, while those aged 25 to 44 have decreased by around 6% from 23,061 to 21,492.


The resident population in the South Downs National Park is highly qualified with 47.8% of the resident working age population holding a degree (Level 4) qualification or higher, compared to just over a third (34.6%) of the residents of the South East as a whole.


Some Conclusions

The economy of the South Downs National Park is broadly based. Its knowledge-based business sector – about a third of all businesses – is large and growing. The National Park benefits the visitor economy but is not overdependent on this.


In the South Downs, like other areas, there has been an increase in the percentage of older people. There has also been a slight increase in the number of young people aged 16-24.


(Information from Economic Data Update South Downs National Park August 2020 SDNPA and Simpson Consulting)



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