VOTE: Is the planning future in South Downs National Park is in safe hands?

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The planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority has received a pat on the back from environmental campaign group the South Downs Society.

The society, which calls itself the unofficial Friends of the South Downs National Park, has welcomed the way the committee has set about its business.

Its planning officer, Steve Ankers, said there had been strong planning policies in place for the South Downs for a while. “But now at last we have a dedicated national park authority with full responsibility for planning, and we are seeing the benefit,” he said.

Among the park committee’s decisions to win approval from the South Downs Society are its rejection of waste operations at Stedham Sawmills, and the turning-down of a major new housing development at the former King Edward VII Hospital at Midhurst.

The Stedham decision was made by members despite a recommendation from the park authority’s officers to give a temporary permission, and the King Edward VII vote flew in the face of the views of Chichester district councillors.

Mr Ankers said: “We are keen to see the restoration and conversion of the old hospital buildings, but not if it means over 200 new dwellings out in the middle of the countryside.

“Like the national park authority, we are keen to support proposals that reflect local social and economic need but conserving this special landscape has to come first.”

He added Monday’s meeting of the planning committee had taken ‘a good step forward’ in protecting the interests of the park. “We are very pleased to see the idea of major new housing estates north and west of Polegate at the foot of the downs has been dropped. And the committee has also sent a strong message to West Sussex County Council that they don’t want to see a huge import of landfill material to Boxgrove Quarry. It is just outside the national park near Halnaker, but tipping on the scale proposed would generate a lot of lorry traffic.”

Earlier decisions supported by the society include putting a stop to proposals for a new sand quarry at Kingsley in Hampshire.