The University of Sussex is soon to become the only university surrounded by a National Park.

It was confirmed last week that the South Downs will finally become the United Kingdom’s 14th, and England’s 9th, National Park.

An announcement made by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, a former Russian and European Studies student at the University of Sussex, revealed the park’s date of establishment and geographical boundaries.

Britain’s 9th National Park will cover 632 square miles, from East Sussex’s Beachy Head all the way to Winchester in Hampshire. The park will contain a wealth of local areas of interest, such as Brighton’s Green Ridge, and two areas of “outstanding natural beauty”, the Sussex Downs and East Hampshire, the latter including the ancient Alice Holt Forest.

“The unique chalk downlands and heavy Weald clay landscapes which make up this wonderful countryside will now be protected for everyone to enjoy”, Benn said. He added that, “National Park status will attract new visitors to the South Downs and bring investment into the local area.”

Creating the park has been something of a struggle; of the twelve areas selected to become national parks in 1947’s Hobhouse Report, the South Downs was the only one not to be granted the status. The belief was the ploughing in the downland had reduced its recreational value.

The reclassification of the area comes after almost a decade of legal dispute over the park’s boundaries. The original plans, drawn up in 2002, were dismissed and followed by a lengthy public enquiry, the cost of which ran into millions of pounds.

While protected status was granted to the area in March of this year, it is only now that a full conversion has been announced. “It is fitting that, in this year, the 60th anniversary of the radical legislation that gave birth to National Parks, we are celebrating an addition to the family”, Benn remarked.

Local environmental groups have been quick to share their delight over the protection of what they describe as South East England’s “green wing”.

Not everyone is pleased with the decision, however. The Member of Parliament for Eastbourne, Nigel Waterson, has branded the decision “profoundly undemocratic”. Waterson, along with other Conservative ministers, has criticised the decision to shift power from the local council to the newly established National Park Authority.

Waterson said: “I have two major concerns affecting my constituents. First, the extension of the boundary of the proposed park to include Lewes could put a block on long-overdue improvements to the A27. There is also a real worry that local planning applications will be taken out of local control and decided by an unelected quango.”

He conceded that, “A National Park can bring some benefits, including tourism”, but is irate at ministers who he claims have ignored the wishes of local authorities, as well as the people of Eastbourne.

The University of Sussex is happy with the development, and has long embraced the University’s picturesque surroundings. The Campus Development Plan, drawn up in 2004, ensures that the University’s architecture will compliment the Downs as much as possible. A university spokeswoman offered assurances that the day-to-day operations of the University will not suffer from the park’s foundation, or visa versa.

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  • It’s great news but can Nigel Waterson explain how including Lewes stops upgrades to the A27 when the A27 past Lewes is already a dual carraigeway? As for local people not wanting the National Park, it’s been local people who have pushed for this, including a large public meeting held in Eastbourne, chaired by David Dimbleby, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of a National Park.

    It’s a pity that you didn’t carry a quote from one of the many local people who have dedicated years of their life pressing for a National Park to better protect the South Downs.