The Dorset Council Plan
Comments by the Dorset National Park Team
Dorset’s environment is our greatest asset, and a healthy natural environment is fundamental to everyone’s health, wealth and happiness. Our natural environment, our geology and ecology, are also of national and international importance. We have a responsibility to care for this precious resource and to pass it on to future generations in at least as good a state as we inherited it. For several decades, there has been damage to our environment and habitats, major and measurable reductions in the presence of wildlife in our landscapes, and the loss of some species. Future generations will ask why we allowed this to happen. “Business as usual” is not an option. Tackling the county’s climate and ecological emergency will require actions to be embedded in every aspect of the Council’s plan. It will require investment and future economic growth to be sustainable. A Dorset National Park would bring additional government funding to help tackle these challenges. It would invest in and grow Dorset’s natural capital and work with the Dorset Council and others to develop policies for appropriate, sustainable development (including affordable housing for young families), sustainable transport and energy while better conserving and enhancing our unique environment.
Addressing the climate and ecological emergency
The Dorset Council has declared a linked climate and ecological emergency. The Dorset National Park team supports this. It reflects the briefing we provided to the Council in June 2019. Young people have expressed their view that climate change and biodiversity loss are the greatest challenges facing our planet. Dorset’s environment has been suffering serious decline for decades. Only 39% of our supposed flagship SSSIs are in a “favourable condition”, some 60% of the AONB’s area is only “moderate” or “moderate-weak” and only 10% is “improving”. We cannot continue with “business as usual”. Our environment is our greatest asset and the “ecosystem services” that a healthy environment can provide to Dorset and the nation are vital to health, happiness and prosperity.
The government-appointed Glover Review of Designated Landscapes recognises the exceptional quality and importance of our environment and recommends that Dorset’s strong case for National Park status be considered by Natural England and Government Ministers. The Government, in its election manifesto, has committed to the creation of new National Parks. Dorset is widely recognised as the outstanding National Park candidate. Through a National Park, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a better future. The Dorset Council’s Plan will want to recognise the opportunity a National Park offers to tackle the environmental challenges and achieve sustainable growth.
Addressing the climate and ecological emergency should be embedded in every aspect of the Council’s plan for the county as well as for how it conducts its own affairs. If Dorset is to address convincingly and effectively these challenges, and set out a prospectus for a thriving, greener and more sustainable future, considerations of the environment, nature recovery, climate change and sustainability cannot be compartmentalised but must be “mainstreamed” through the Council’s plan and all of the Council’s policies and plans.
We suggest that the cross-cutting theme of addressing climate change, nature recovery and sustainability should focus on three goals.
Sustainable development - achieve thriving sustainable communities through appropriate policies for the environment, economic development, transport, energy and all aspects of planning. Sustainable development implies housing appropriate to meet local needs, located so that people have the minimum need to travel to work and essential amenities, and new developments which have the appropriate mix of affordable and market homes and work-spaces and are designed and built for sustainable living. A rural economic strategy can optimise sustainability, economic resilience and community advantage by balancing distributed, local development across the county with the proposed LIS approach based on business clusters.
Resilient landscapes and seas – support the development of a resilient and interconnected network of land, water and sea that is rich in plants, wildlife and character to provide a wide range of benefits for local people and visitors. Support farming and fisheries to operate in harmony with the environment, implement policies and practices that offer public benefit and, through planning arrangements, help businesses diversify, add value and improve their profitability in uncertain times.
Connecting people with nature – actively promote the health and wellbeing benefits our environment, wildlife and cultural heritage offer through an inclusive approach for everyone in Dorset. A sustainable environment enables society to live well and prosper.
A Dorset National Park should be a key part of the Council’s vision for a greener, more sustainable future for Dorset’s communities, economy and environment. A National Park would bring additional funding, capacity and expertise to promote and support investment in our natural capital and ecosystem services and help turn around the environmental degradation of past decades. It would work with the Dorset Council and all stakeholders on each of the Council’s proposed five priority themes. It would help develop and implement sustainable policies for planning and development, transport, land use, energy, and the economy including higher value year-round tourism.
A Dorset National Park could also be the first to have an off-shore as well as on-shore role. Key organisations see the benefits of a National Park, working in partnership and with a coordinating role among off-shore stakeholders and across the “green and blue” environment.
With a National Park, Dorset can thrive and become a leader in the green economy. A partnership between the Dorset Council and the National Park can help retain and attract skills, expertise and businesses. Enhancing Dorset’s environment and quality of life can underpin a policy of attracting a diverse range of business investment and talent including in the knowledge and creative economies. The National Park can help farmers and land managers maximise new public benefit farm funding; provide marketing and planning support for land managers and other producers wishing to diversify; attract funding and resources to assist a wide range of voluntary, community and business partners; provide greater opportunities for young people from our schools, colleges and universities; and offer opportunities and benefits for businesses and organisations Dorset-wide.
Dorset needs greater ambition and vision for our future environment and economy. With a National Park, Dorset can realise its potential, for the benefit of our communities, economy and environment, including our young people and future generations. A National Park would be a key partner in helping all of Dorset to address our challenges, including the climate and ecological emergency, and realise the opportunities to achieve a thriving, sustainable future. The Dorset Council’s plan will want to recognise the opportunity a National Park presents for all of Dorset.
It’s time for Dorset’s National Park.
Image courtesy of Chris Mason.