LYME Regis councillors have raised concerns about the proposed Dorset National Park and will organise a public consultation to gauge the opinion of residents.
Campaigners Dr Paul Kelly and Richard and Sandra Brown attended a town council meeting in February to outline their plans and what the establishment of a National Park would mean for Dorset.
Mrs Brown said that creating a National Park would help to conserve and enhance Dorset’s outstanding landscape and heritage, boost the economy and attract new funding from central government, make Dorset a global brand and destination, help farmers and land managers to access funding and support, and work with communities for appropriate development, including affordable housing.
However, councillors have raised questions about how a National Park would work new unitary Dorset Council, which will come into force in May.
The National Park would take over as the planning authority and it would not be controlled by national housing policies, but would instead work with the community for “appropriate development”.
It would also be responsible for matters relating to heritage, environment and recreation, with the new Dorset Council still responsible for essential services such as education and social care.
Fifty per cent of the National Park authority would be made up of members of the new Dorset Council, 25 per cent would be from town and parish councils and 25 per cent would be residents who put themselves forward and would be selected by the Secretary of State.
The matter was raised again at a meeting last week for councillors to discuss whether they were for or against the formation of a National Park.
Councillor Jeff Scowen commented: “When I talk to people, generally the public seem to be in favour of this. It can be argued they don’t know all the difficulties and procedural problems we may come up against and whether it’s legitimate because one could argue it’s not democratic. But the public see National Parks as a good thing.
Councillor Stan Williams suggested that towns such as Lyme Regis should be excluded from the National Park.
He commented: “What can a National Park do for us, other than we won’t be able to do anything planning wise? I’m totally opposed to making Lyme Regis part of it because it would kill any chance of us proceeding with anything at all. There’s all sorts of things that could crop up and we could do without that in the town.”
‘Highly significant to Lyme’
Councillor Brian Larcombe said the issue was “highly significant to Lyme” and members should be “very cautious” when making a decision.
“We have to be clear about the impact of a National Park and its influence on how this council will operate in future,” he added.
Councillor Larcombe raised concerns about the impact a National Park would have on the planning process, West Dorset District Council’s Local Plan and the cost of local housing.
He was also concerned that the Dorset National Park campaigners had suggested that Lyme Regis Town Council was in favour of the proposal.
Town clerk John Wright said he had brought the matter to members because the council was being pursued by campaigners to make as submission to the government’s Glover Review, which is expected to make recommendations on the future of National Parks in October.
Mr Wright said campaigners seemed to be taking the approach that, if the council did not respond, they assumed it was in favour.
Councillor John Broom said: “I’m dead against it. I worked once in a National Park and their planning policies are diabolical.
“I believe it’s a very undemocratic system as well. I think we as a council should think very, very deeply into it.
Councillor Richard Doney said he didn’t think members had enough information to make a decision, but “my gut feeling is that I don’t like it”.
He added: “We are being almost ambushed and the presumption that we’re happy to go along with all this is wrong.”
Councillor Scowen added: “I’m dead against a National Park because it’s another level of bureaucracy. The government has seen sense and got rid of one massive layer – district councils – and here we are considering another one.”
Councillor Scowen expressed concerns that residents would be in favour of the National Park if they were not given all the information and it would cause “another Brexit”.
“I think we take the bull by the horns and say ‘on your bike’,” he added.
Councillors agreed to consider further information on the proposed Dorset National Park and to take this to a public consultation, but in the meantime to make it clear to campaigners that the council had not yet made a formal decision whether it was for or against the proposal.