A Dorset National Park would be good for Dorset
By Professor Michael Dower, CBE
Last month’s edition of Dorset Life concluded that “almost irrespective of the detail, a Dorset National Park would be good for Dorset.”
This has now become a live issue, following the announcement by Michael Gove that he has asked Julian Glover to lead a national review including the potential for new National Parks. This review, which I strongly welcome, offers Dorset the opportunity to complete unfinished business from 70 years ago… as I know from my family background.
My father John Dower wrote the official report on National Parks in England and Wales, published in 1945. He recognised the Dorset Coast and Heaths as a strong candidate for National Park status. The Hobhouse Committee, of which he was a member, recognised the quality of the Dorset landscape in its report of 1947, but – for reasons specific to the time – did not include Dorset in their short-list for early action. Much of Dorset was later designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), on the recommendation of the National Parks Commission of which my mother Pauline Dower was deputy chair.
Since then, the Dorset Coast has received World Heritage status; the high quality of the county’s landscape and heritage is widely acknowledged; and Natural England (the relevant Government agency) has short-listed Dorset for consideration as a National Park.
I know from personal experience, as Director of the Peak National Park and then as Director General of the Countryside Commission, the high value which National Park status can have for the environment, the community and the economy of a designated area. The Dorset AONB Partnership has pursued many excellent projects, with finance from many sources and assisted by many organisations - so why would it be good to upgrade the designation to that of National Park?
A National Park would have powers and resources beyond those of an AONB. As the planning authority, it would work in partnership to conserve and enhance the county’s scenic, natural and historic heritage, which is our greatest economic asset, and promote enjoyment and understanding of this heritage, recreation, health and wellbeing. It would manage tourism pressures, extend the season and bring the benefits of tourism to all parts of the county. It would foster the economic and social wellbeing of communities and support developments that reflect local need, including truly affordable homes for local families.
A National Park would be an asset and close partner for the new Dorset Council and the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership. National Parks are funded by central Government and so are not a call on local households or businesses. The South Downs National Park attracted over £100 million additional funding in its first 5-6 years. Its landowners and farmers secured over twice the amount of agri-environment funding that might have been expected. National Parks are now piloting post-Brexit funding packages for farming and rural development, in partnership with local farmers and enterprises.
I have no doubt that a Dorset National Park could have a positive social, economic and environmental impact, parallel to that now being realised by the South Downs National Park. I wholeheartedly support the proposal and would encourage all readers to find out more by exploring the Dorset National Park website.