You Outstanding Natural Beauty: Is South Devon about to become a National Park?

After wrestling the title of Britain’s most expensive seaside resort from Sandbanks last year, Salcombe in South Devon could soon be adding another feather to its guano-covered cap.

According to local reports, Natural England is considering a proposal to turn the entire South Hams District – including Salcombe – into a fully-fledged National Park.

The plans, drawn up by the South Hams Society, would see the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty being expanded to include Dartmoor’s four rivers (the Yealme, Erme, Avon and Dart) all the way from source to sea, and re-designated as the South Devon National Park.

A perfect storm of “intense development pressure” and a “lack of effective enforcement” has resulted in the area being exposed to some rather controversial planning decisions in recent years, according to the voluntary organisation (whose President is none other than Radio 4’s Jonathan Dimbleby).

The Society is lobbying for greater protection from development and changing land use, which it claims is damaging the beauty and natural environment of the landscape, its wildlife and its cultural heritage. National Park status would – it is argued – provide sensitive development control backed by greater expertise.

Here’s an extract from the SHS proposal, but you can read the full illustrated version here:

The South Hams is under intense development pressure and there is a strong feeling among many residents of the South Hams that the South Devon AONB and the surrounding countryside is not being valued and protected as it deserves and should be.

It seems clear to them that the AONB designation does not serve to protect the landscape, wild life and culture as it should. It is clear to us that despite National Parks and AONBs having equivalent legal protection, in practice National Park status is very much more effective in protecting the landscape and wild life.

We make this proposal in the belief that extension of the AONB and re-designation as a National Park will be effective in protecting the natural environment we value so much.

The South Devon AONB sits in a comparatively accessible landscape with a coast line which offers enormous recreational opportunities.

These are the assets used by the tourist industry which seeks to gain its income by placing facilities adjacent to them. These facilities generate traffic and require car parks all of which have an effect often on the most sensitive parts of the landscape.

The attractions also create the housing demand. Second homeowners buy the high density housing in the centre of settlements previously occupied by local residents. People retiring from other places create an unlimited demand for low density housing on the periphery of towns and villages.

In turn these generate high house prices which are quite out of the reach of most local people including those who carry out essential local services.

SHC has tried to secure affordable housing for locals by requiring these developers to include it in new estates of otherwise open market houses. In practice the expected ratio of affordable to market is usually missed by a wide margin, so the total has to be raised, with the loss of ever more greenfield land.

Currently we see national house builders gaining permission to build low density estates of predominantly open market houses on greenfield sites on the perimeter of villages in the South Devon AONB.

SHC has let it be known that they believe the houses required to be between 10,000 and 15,000.

At the densities used by developers, between 500 and 750 hectares of mostly greenfield sites would be required for these houses, much of it in the AONB.

We believe that a South Devon National Park Authority would be better able to deal with these conflicts and opportunities.

With its special powers and funding, backed by national resources and expertise, and with a much stronger remit to protect the natural environment, it could provide more effective leadership, not just in conservation but also in resolving the special problems of, for instance, affordable housing and of sustainable farming in a designated landscape.

And recreational opportunity, instead of being an enemy of the natural environment, would enable its conservation.
Image by Adrian Lilburn (Creative Commons Licence)