At a time of economic uncertainty, it is important that areas and businesses play to their strengths and make the most of their assets.
Dorset and E Devon’s greatest economic asset is our environment – as a 2016 report for Dorset County Council clearly states. It is worth some £1.5 billion every year. But we can do more. The National Park brand would add enormous strength to the area’s marketing offer. It would reinforce the attractiveness of the area to those from the UK and overseas, including higher spending tourists. We could market more effectively the special World Heritage status of the Jurassic Coast, the landscape qualities of our downs and heaths and the heritage of our inland as well as coastal towns and villages.
A NP would add to the attractiveness of Dorset and E Devon for mobile businesses, including those in the creative industries who can also draw on the skills and research in Bournemouth’s two universities. An independent report on the economic opportunities presented by a National Park has identified the strengths and partnership working that NPs bring to local businesses. It has suggested that the area might secure some £10 millions of annual central Government funding with over 90% of this being invested in the local economy via partnerships and as project funding. The report suggests that while two thirds of the economic benefits of a NP occur within the NP area, one third occurs in neighbouring areas through the halo effect. So all can benefit.
National Parks have a statutory duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of their communities. They are not against development and indeed approve a higher percentage of planning applications than other local authorities because they work hard to achieve appropriate development in the right places. National Parks have a good track record in promoting the provision of affordable homes and keeping such homes affordable and available for local people, including key workers. Dorset needs such housing to retain younger people and skills as well as to attract new key workers.
At a time when the future funding of farming is uncertain, there are advantages in being in areas designated as worthy of conservation and support for their high environmental and biodiversity value. Much of current farm support is geared to high level stewardship and, if future resources are constrained, it could be an advantage to farm in a National Park, and access the funding associated with such designation.
At a time of economic uncertainty, and when local government is being reorganized and hence uncertainty increased, Dorset and E Devon have an opportunity to build on the proven and successful National Park business model, one that is cost effective, adds value to partner councils and the wider economy, and is paid for by central government funding. A National Park is the planning authority for its area and would replace the AONB. It is not a quango. The National Park movement is a powerful force and there are benefits in being part of such a strong network and effective pressure group.
The NP Team welcomes the further evaluation of the NP proposal and its potential benefits as part of Dorset councils’ economic scrutiny programme. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.