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Community planning in a protected landscape

Finding a balance between conservation, enhancement and the aspirations of local people is the biggest challenge in dealing with nationally protected landscapes, says Amy Tyler-Jones.

“Planning for the status quo” and “a presumption against change” are real quotes from draft neighbourhood plans. You might expect that in a protected landscape a desire to stop change in small towns and villages would be even stronger than in towns.

In the South Downs National Park we’ve seen just a few communities beginning with this view develop a positive approach to development, but most have set out from the start to promote and shape development.

The South Downs is England’s most populous national park; 112,000 people live in four market towns and several villages across 1,600 square kilometres. So the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has the additional challenge of having to accommodate more growth than any other protected landscape.

In January, we made the Petersfield Neighbourhood Plan, the largest of seven to date in the national park. The community has chosen to maintain a compact, pedestrian-friendly town while enabling more than 700 new homes and three hectares of employment space. It also promises improved access to the countryside and enhanced community facilities.

 “Innovative neighbourhood plan teams are starting to use local issues to make plans more relevant to the community”

The biggest challenge has been finding a balance between conserving and enhancing a nationally protected landscape and the aspirations of local people. For example, in Petersfield the sports centre and surrounding pitches provide space for football, rugby and cricket, centred on the leisure centre and swimming pool.

Finding a way to deliver homes and protect the area without losing these facilities took much discussion between planners and the community. Both sides gained a better understanding of the other’s needs.

Another challenge is making sure that plans aren’t just the work of a vocal minority. Innovative neighbourhood plan teams are starting to use local issues to make plans more relevant to the community. In Petersfield, by protecting the the sports hub and creating a new community centre, the plan has shown a sensitivity to local issues and proved that plan-making can also deliver place-making. We’ve even seen new young community leaders emerge as a result.

We’ve set out to establish productive working relationships, developing bespoke guidance and offering support through training and feedback. We also remind people that neighbourhood plans aren’t the only community-led planning tool – Village Design Statements, Local Landscape Character Assessments and Parish Plans may well be more appropriate to the community’s needs.

Amy Tyler-Jones is a neighbourhood planning officer for the South Downs National Park Authority


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