National parks have received below inflation grant settlements that will leave a shortfall that will require the large-scale closure of many park services. This does not bode well for the proposed South Downs National Park which is due to come into existence in 2008/09.
The nine areas already designated as national parks receive 50 million visitors and an annual grant of just over £40m but this year’s settlement is just under £3m less than the national park authorities need to maintain current levels of service and maintenance.
Furthermore they have been told to expect a funding freeze for the next two years. Some park authorities e.g. the Lake District, have already been identified as being in a “precarious” financial position by the Audit Commission and the cuts will require the closure of two thirds of their visitor centres and the redundancy of 29 staff together with the shelving of many environmental projects.
ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP COMMENT
This is an interesting scenario for Brighton & Hove as the time draws closer for declaring national park status for the South Downs. The Economic Partnership supported the proposal for such status as did Brighton & Hove City Council but all the other authorities in the proposed area opposed it.
The reason for the opposition was the removal of local planning control that park status would impose on local authorities. Supporters of the park argued that a national park authority would be better placed to protect the environment, control inappropriate development and maintain a high quality of landscape environment. Opponents will seize upon the cuts to point out that local authorities may do a better job because they respond directly to public demand for quality open spaces whereas the government would appear to be playing with the parks budget to save money.
Perhaps the Chief Executive of theYorkshire Dales Park – David Butterworth -articulated the most relevant issue for Brighton & Hove, which hopes to become a major gateway to the new South Downs Park.
David Butterworth understandably rails against the £250,000 of cuts he must find but he also said: - “When people visit our park they expect to be able to park their car, enter a visitor centre and use the toilets. We can no longer guarantee those basic expectations”.
If these are 'basic expectations' it is compelling to ask where visitors to the South Downs will park their cars?
Read related items on:
South Downs National Park
Brighton & Hove City Council
Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership