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The Society welcomes removal of overhead power line at Cocking

Southern Electric Power Distribution has taken down unsightly overhead power lines which marred the appearance of the otherwise picturesque downland village of Cocking, particularly views of the 11th century church. This scheme had been put forward by the Society and we have been swift to congratulate all those concerned.

The link below will take you to a press release from the South Downs National Park Authority which describes the scheme.

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Unrestricted barn conversions: a threat to the national park

The South Downs Society has acted in concert with the other national park societies across the country in urging government to exclude the parks from a possible change in planning law that would allow old farm buildings to become new houses without the need for planning permission.

Below is a link to a press release from the Campaign for National Parks, the umbrella organisation for national park societies, about an open letter sent to the planning minister.

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The Society reports on the performance of the National Park Planning Committee

National Park Planning Committee Performance Review 2013 prepared for the South Downs Society

The South Downs Society’s action plan for 2013 included a requirement for a report to its Planning and Conservation Committee at the year end on “the extent to which the performance of the National Park’s Planning Committee has been consistent with national park purposes”. This is the first occasion on which this task has been undertaken – other than anecdotally – so the methodology is experimental.

For this task the Society has scrutinised the decisions of the Planning Committee at each of its monthly meetings during 2013, categorised them very roughly in terms of significant and less significant development proposals, compared them with its own submitted comments and also with the recommendations in the reports of the NPA officers. The position is complicated by a number of factors:

  • It would not be reasonable to conclude that any decision not to the liking of the Society must automatically be contrary to national park purposes: planning issues are rarely black and white, are subject to personal – though trained – perspective, and members of the Planning Committee may apply varying emphasis to the two purposes and statutory duty of park designation.
  • Not all of the planning applications which come before the Planning Committee for determination will be of major significance. Now that four local authorities have withdrawn from the delegation agreement with the NPA, the latter is now responsible for decisions on all applications, both major and minor, in those districts and some of these will come before members, rather than being determined by the officers under delegated powers. This exercise covers only those applications which have come before the Park Planning Committee monthly meetings.
  • The exercise has not considered the comments made by the Committee to neighbouring planning authorities on applications outside the park.
  • The Society’s own submitted comments are not always related to the most significant applications. Submissions are largely down to the efforts of individual District Officers (DO) of the Society, some of whom may be able to deploy more time than others. There are significant parts of the national park in Hampshire where the Society has no DO coverage, and there have been some significant applications in those areas.



  1.  A total of 51 determinations were made by the Planning Committee in 2013. Some of these related to the same sites eg a proposal to demolish a building in a conservation area and replace it has hitherto required two separate applications, or a proposal that affects a listed building has required a separate approval because of that status. More than 51 applications have appeared on the Committee’s agenda but a number have been withdrawn or deferred for further information.
  2. Of these 51:

32 were recommended for approval by the case officer and approved

10 were recommended for refusal and refused

8 were recommended for approval but refused

1 was recommended for refusal but approved

  1. Of the 51, around 16 were of particular interest to the Society – eg more than two dwellings involved, a school, a hotel and retail units, a travellers’ site, a nursing home, a visitor centre, holiday homes, a vineyard pressing centre, large farm buildings. This categorisation has no formal basis but these applications raised significant issues, including the extent to which they met national park purposes. By their nature the Society was more likely to have expressed concerns than support.
  2. Of these 16:

5 were recommended for approval and were approved. The Society had written in support of one of these (National Trust’s conversion of its hotel at Birling Gap to improved visitor facilities) and expressed concerns on none of them.

4 were recommended for refusal and were refused. The Society had objected to two of them (Durand Academy’s expansion plans for St Cuthmans school and further developments at a nursing home near Fernhurst) but made no comments on the other two (both were housing developments in Hampshire without DO coverage – but they were rejected anyway).

6 were recommended for approval by the case officer but rejected by the members of the Committee. The Society had objected to four of these (listed building consent at St Cuthmans, the demolition and new build at the magistrates’ court building in Lewes, and a major mixed development in Southdowns Road, also in Lewes). The Society had submitted comments but no formal objection on a proposed vineyard pressing centre near Petworth, feeling that it might support the local rural economy.  The Committee concluded that there was no overriding reason for it to be located within the national park and it would be utilising grapes not only from the vineyard itself but also those harvested elsewhere. The final application of the six in this category was for housing in Hampshire where the Society currently has no DO presence.

1 application was recommended for refusal by the officer but approved by the Committee. This related to a proposal for industrial scale, new agricultural buildings at Iford in the Ouse Valley. The Society had objected, along with local residents, and addressed the Committee in support of the officer recommendation, but the members overturned the recommendation and declined even to take up the applicant’s  offer to discuss a more sensitive location.



In summary, and also having regard to some less statistical observations:

  1. The deliberations of the Planning Committee are usually thorough and are informed by a group site visit. Members clearly have varying perspectives and frequently express conflicting views, but the purposes of national park designation are a constant background to decision making.
  2. The Society is listened to. It is selective about which items to speak on but does so more frequently than any other body. It often lines up in support of parish councils, local residents and others. Its submitted and oral comments are frequently referred to in the officer reports and in member discussion. Members of the Planning Committee have indicated that they appreciate the Society’s presence at the meetings.
  3. The Society has a good record of engaging with the most significant applications which come before the Committee, particularly where there is an active DO presence.
  4. The great majority of the Committee’s decisions, both major and minor, are in line with the Society’s aims and its submitted comments – even when the officer recommendations took a different line (St Cuthmans, the Lewes courts and Southdowns Road). Iford Farm remains a notable exception, with the Society’s support for the officer recommendation failing to secure Committee agreement.
  5. The Society has issued press releases and had letters published in local papers indicating when it has welcomed the position taken by the Committee as well as when there has been disagreement.



In considering the above report at its meeting in January 2014, the Society’s Planning and Conservation Committee made the following points:

  • Use of the NPA’s website for responses to planning applications had improved during the year but there remained problems and delays.
  • The NPA’s generation of “paperwork” through policy and strategy development and the associated consultation processes made heavy demands on the time and resources of stakeholders as well as the NPA, while additional resources were needed in areas such as planning enforcement.


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90 years of conservation – The South Downs Society celebrates the past, present and future

On Wednesday evening 20th November President of the South Downs Society, Baroness Whitaker, hosted a reception at the House of Lords celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the South Downs Society.

The Lord Speaker, Baroness d’Souza, spoke about the importance of the role of civic society in protecting the countryside and welcomed some 80 guests, most of whom were members of the Society.  In addition to celebrating the 90 years since the Society was formed, Baroness Whitaker and Society Trustees, Rob Jackson and Robert Cheesman outlined exciting plans to attract more families to join the Society.  In 2014 a series of family-friendly events and walks will be introduced to the programme of activities along with a package of member benefits designed to appeal to families.

Below are a few pictures taken at the event:




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South Downs National Park "Shared Identity" workshops

The South Downs National  Park Authority is working with its partners to develop a new ‘shared identity’ for the National Park.  Rather than a corporate identity for the National Park Authority, it is an identity for this iconic place that will benefit the work of businesses, communities and other organisations from Winchester to Eastbourne.

The aim is to help all who live, work and visit the National Park area to create and experience consistent, powerful and coherent communications about the South Downs National Park.  As a first step they need to find the main story that represents the National Park.  This story will underpin and lead to the development of a whole visual identity – a look and feel, logo, language, tone of voice etc.

Why your help is needed

To begin to capture the story of the South Downs input from communities, local businesses and organisations is vital; people who are passionate about living and working in the South Downs, to ensure the story is authentic and representative.

A series of 90 minute workshops to work with local people, businesses and groups to help create the story for the new shared identity will be run throughout November at a number of  venues across the National Park area.

Venues and timings for workshops

Pulborough Village Hall
Swan View, Lower Street, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 2BF

Telephone: 01798 874647 –

14th November – 3:00pm to 4:30pm and 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Beechwood Hall
Beechwood Lane, Cooksbridge  BN7 3QG

20th November – 3:00pm to 4:30pm and 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Petersfield Social Club
8 Station Road, Petersfield, Hampshire GU32 3ED

Tel: 01730 263001 –

29th November – 3:00pm to 4:30pm


Petersfield Community Centre
Love Lane, Petersfield, Hampshire GU31 4BW

Tel: 01730 262081 –

29th November – 6:00pm to 7:30pm


The sessions will be steered by the authority’s expert partners Hidden Britain and places are limited so to book your spot by emailing stating which session you want to attend and how many places you would like.

If you have any queries or questions about the project, please contact Nick Stewart, Campaigns & Identity Project Manager by email on

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Planning for the Future, Building on the present

South Downs Society’s Council has approved a new strategic plan for 2013-16 and an associated action plan for 2013, setting out what we hope to achieve in the current year. A fresh action plan will be produced each autumn.

The strategic plan reflects the Society’s charitable purpose, namely, “The conservation and enhancement for the public benefit of the beauty and amenities of the South Downs in and within the vicinity of the South Downs National Park”. It seeks to build on the success of the Society over the years by focusing on two features which distinguish the Society from all other voluntary and many statutory bodies interested in the South Downs: firstly, the Society is concerned with the whole area of the National Park and its setting; and, secondly, its interest is holistic and is not restricted to particular features, such as landscape protection, nature conservation, access, cultural heritage or economic and social wellbeing: all aspects of the South Downs are of interest to the Society and we are the champion and advocate of the National Park.

Against this background, the strategic plan identifies three themes which will inform our work over the next three years:
• being recognised as the critical or challenging friend of the National Park Authority (NPA);
• developing an informed and distinctive voice; and
• establishing clear rules of engagement with the NPA.

These themes reflect the need for us to work closely and effectively with the NPA, while retaining our right to take our own, independent line on issues which affect the South Downs. This involves us in making sure that our engagement with the NPA, our comments on relevant planning and access issues, our responses to consultations on the National Park Management Plan and our participation in the work of the NPA is professional and well-informed. It also emphasises the need for us to speak with authority for the large and diverse group of people who love the South Downs, some of whom may not yet be engaged in our work, or even aware of our existence.

The first action plan, which is organised on the basis of the three strategic themes, sets out 27 new tasks to be achieved in 2013, in addition to the Society’s regular and continuing programme of walks, talks and events. The action plan, which builds on and does not replace, our existing, well-established programmes, aims to make the Society better known and to attract and retain new members, including younger members and people from a range of backgrounds. Responsibility for achieving the actions has been assigned to individual Council members and officers. At each meeting, Council will review progress against the targets in the action plan and seek to ensure that they are all achieved by the end of the year. The strategic plan and the action plan 2013 are available on the Society’s website. The public, interested organisations and members of the Society are encouraged to read these documents.

SDS Strategic Plan 2013 to 2016 – view document
SDS Action Plan 2013 – view document

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Celebratory Walks for the National Park’s 3rd Anniversary

The UK’s newest National Park will be three years old on Monday 1 April and the National Park Society – the South Downs Society – is celebrating with special walks throughout the region.

Robert Self, a Society spokesperson, said “For over sixty years, campaigners worked for the South Downs to be recognized as a National Park. Its outstanding landscape and network of historic pathways finally received the protection they deserved in 2010 and we will be celebrating this 3rd anniversary by enjoying the stunning spring scenery on three superb walks”.

Robert Self will be leading the celebration in Hampshire in conjunction with Owen Plunkett from the Ramblers: a 6 mile circular walk from the Sustainability Centre, East Meon. Meeting at 10 a.m. on Sunday 31st March, for a brief presentation on the work of the Centre and departing at 10.30 to walk along the South Downs Way (bring a picnic lunch) returning via the source of the River Meon around 2.30 p.m. Then follows the opportunity to hear presentations from SDNPA Board Member, Doug Jones and Robert Self. Tea and cakes available for purchase in the café.

Alternatively enjoy the stunning scenery on the West/East Sussex border and gather at Clayton Windmills Car Park (OS Explorer map reference 122/302134) by 9.15 a.m. on Sunday 31st March for a 10 mile circular walk taking in Stanmer Park, Westmeston, Ditchling and Keymer. Bring a picnic lunch or visit a nearby pub at the end which should be around 2 p.m.

Already have plans for the Easter weekend? Then on Sunday 7 April come to Butts Brow Car Park at Willingdon (OS Explorer map reference 123/580017) by 9.45 a.m. for a delight of big open views, neat valleys and forest rides. There are some steep climbs in this 7 mile circular walk and a lunch stop at the Eight Bells in Jevington returning to the car park around 2.30 p.m.

The National Park was created on 1 April 2010, and the National Park Authority took up its full powers as planning and access authority on 1 April 2011. The Society has praised the National Park Authority for its work, by acting decisively to protect and enhance the precious landscape of the South Downs.

“As the critical friend of the National Park Authority, it is our job to support the Authority and to be frank when we feel they’ve got it wrong” said Robert Cheesman, the Chairman of the South Downs Society. “On the whole, we think they are doing an excellent job, with particular highlights being the improvement to grassland close to the South Downs Way as part of the special Nature Improvement Areas in the UK; the Authority’s support for the Mosaic Project, which helps people from black and minority ethnic communities to enjoy the National Park; and the creation of the Sustainable Communities Fund for projects to improve the Downs, which has enabled local communities to achieve so much.”

Everyone is invited to join in on the celebratory walks, all of which are free. Walkers are advised to bring a drink and a bite to eat, a sunhat or waterproof – depending on the Great British weather of the day – and to wear sturdy shoes. More information about any of the walks can be obtained from the South Downs Society on 01798 875073. 25 March 2013