A Dorset National Park will be a strategic asset and partner for the Dorset Council, communities and business. It will promote a thriving and successful, living, working rural Dorset. National Parks are a proven and successful business model for a rural economy where sustainable growth is linked to caring for our greatest economic asset - our environment and natural capital.
The Government in its 25 Year Environment Plan (YEP) notes the achievements of National Parks in support of their communities and rural economies as well as environment, and states that the Government will assess whether more may be needed. It notes that as planning authorities, National Parks can shape the way development is used to contribute to the social, economic and environmental enhancement of their areas.
The proposal for a Dorset National Park has cross-party and cross-community support. Many Dorset Town and Parish Councils as well as national and local organisations and businesses have expressed their interest.
The proposal has passed a first evaluation by Natural England who expect to undertake a further evaluation later this year. It will be for Natural England to determine whether the area suggested (essentially that first proposed in a Government report of 1945) warrants designation.
A Dorset National Park offers great opportunities for our communities, economy and environment and would be a close partner, asset and investor with the Dorset Council. The Council and the DNP are likely to be on converging and complementary paths, with a great deal to contribute to each other as well as to our communities and economy.
A Dorset NP would provide an economic stimulus for all of Dorset. Dorset’s premium environment and natural capital are its greatest economic asset, and a NP can help Dorset capitalise on this. NPs promote inward investment, jobs and skills. The NP brand would put Dorset more on the international tourism map, help extend the season and spread the benefits of tourism to more of Dorset. It would give Dorset a premium identity and competitive edge. It would benefit all of Dorset. Studies estimate that around a third of the economic benefit of a NP arises outside the NP area.
A recent report by Bournemouth University analysed data from the South Downs pre and post NP designation and concluded that a NP could result in a substantial economic stimulus for Dorset, including for our largest business sector, tourism. It states that a Dorset National Park would form part of a strategic investment which would bring significant benefits. It would help Dorset become more resilient by promoting investment, employment and skills, and value-added tourism [visitors to NPs stay longer and spend more.]
The report states that “National Parks sustain the natural environment and capital of their areas whilst also contributing to local communities, visitor enjoyment and their local economies. Our research particularly identified their role in expanding tourism. This links with their duty to promote the understanding and enjoyment of their areas… Empirical evidence also suggests that the value of NPs goes beyond increased economic activity to include health and well-being.” (1)
Farmers and landowners would benefit. Those in the South Downs NP secured twice as much agri-environment funding as might have been expected, while marketing and branding add value to all producers. NPs are bidding to take on various roles post Brexit eg in delivering farm support and rural investment funding. A number of NPs are running pilot schemes in partnership with and to the benefit of their farming communities.
A NP would secure additional funding including from central government. The SDNP secured over £100m in its first 6 years from various sources - reinvested in local communities, businesses and not for profit organisations.
Reflecting the South Downs NP (SDNP) way of working, the Dorset NP could devolve day to day planning work to the Dorset Council and pay for this service. This in turn would free up some Council funding to support rural services, benefitting the whole county. The SDNP supports its partner councils which continue to deliver key services like education, social services and highways in the NP area. The NP inputs to education, helps fund health & wellbeing schemes, has secured almost £10m for sustainable transport, and helps support rural buses, post offices, pubs etc. There would be no duplication with The Dorset Council, and the AONB would disappear.
These direct funding benefits are additional to the wider benefits to the economy from investment, jobs and skills, marketing and branding, and higher value tourism.
Recent analysis of ONS data (2) shows that NPs are living, working landscapes whose communities and businesses prospered during the period studied - 2012-16 - capitalising on their high quality natural environment and heritage to achieve strong growth. So:
business turnover in NPs grew by 25% in those 4 years, from £10.4bn to £13bn
the number of businesses in NPs grew by 10% to more than 25,000
more than 21,000 jobs were created
the GVA of NP economies grew in real terms by between £1.4 and £2.4bn
Growth was strong in the SDNP, our close comparator, where the NP is a member and partner of its LEPs and benefits the whole economy as well as key sectors like tourism and land management
DEFRA Minister Lord Gardiner has noted that NPs have a duty to foster the economic and social wellbeing of their communities and are successfully delivering. He suggested they are especially good at promoting small and medium sized businesses which play a key role in the rural economy.
The economy needs relevant housing and NPs have a remit to respond to local housing needs, including promoting truly affordable homes for local people and keeping them affordable. This can help the Dorset Council ensure its rural communities are thriving and sustainable. NPs are not against development, they approve a higher % of applications and handle cases faster than other councils. The SDNP is the 8th biggest and busiest Local Planning Authority and its Local Plan was co-developed through partnership and consultation with all local interests and building on Neighbourhood Plans.
A NP is a specialised local authority. In the South Downs, members are drawn 75% from elected local councillors; two-thirds of those would be appointed by the Dorset Council, the other third being town and parish councillors.
With a NP, Dorset can be on the front foot, and a partnership between the NP and the Dorset Council would offer significant economic and financial opportunities.
We all want the best for Dorset, and a 21st century Dorset National Park would be a great strategic asset and investment, working closely with the Dorset Council on a shared vision and agenda for a thriving, successful and sustainable rural Dorset.
Click Here to read the university study in full.
Gross Value Added of England’s National Parks – Update; Cumulus Consultants for National Parks England, August 2017