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|Press Release: 11th December 2007|
South Downs Protection Threatened by Flawed Inquiry
The future of the iconic South Downs could be threatened by a flawed legal process, countryside campaigners the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)  said today (Tuesday).
As the inquiry  into the setting up of a National Park for the South Downs re-opens, there is a serious risk that the case for including the Western Weald, acknowledged to be one of our finest landscapes, will not be properly heard. 
Bill Bryson, President of CPRE said:
"The case for making the South Downs a National Park is overwhelming, including the Western Weald.  The idea of hacking off a whole tract of beautiful countryside is absurd." 
"I understand that the whole process might even be legally flawed if the case for the Western Weald is not properly heard." 
CPRE has been advised that unless the case for the inclusion of the Western Weald as proposed by Natural England is thoroughly addressed, the whole inquiry could be vulnerable to judicial review. This would be hugely embarrassing to the Government which has repeatedly stated its desire to create a South Downs National Park.
To make clear the strength of feeling over the need to include the Western Weald in the National Park, CPRE urges people to show their support by signing a petition to the Prime Minister [see http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/western-weald/ ].
CPRE believes that the overwhelming public consensus is that we should have the best possible South Downs National Park; that should include the Western Weald. It is crucial the new inquiry allows this to happen.
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Notes For Editors
1. CPRE, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, is a charity which promotes the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England. We advocate positive solutions for the long-term future of the countryside. Founded in 1926, we have 60,000 supporters and a branch in every county. President: Bill Bryson. Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. www.cpre.org.uk
2. A pre-inquiry meeting to discuss the terms of the Public Inquiry will take place on 11 December 2007 at 2pm at Hove Town Hall. The Public Inquiry will re-open on 12 February 2008.
3. The Public Inquiry will be re-opened on 4 specific issues, which can be viewed on: http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/issues/landscap/natparks/sdowns/index.htm CPRE believes that a full discussion of all new evidence relevant to the designation of the South Downs National Park should be heard at the re-opened Public Inquiry.
4. One of the main reasons the Western Weald has been threatened with removal from the South Downs National Park is due it being of a different landscape character to the chalk downland. There is no requirement in National Park legislation that states this should be taken into account. The majority of land in the Western Weald is currently protected by AONB status and would face an uncertain future if left out of the National Park.
5. The Planning Inspector who oversaw the 2003-5 public inquiry into the South Downs National Park has submitted his recommendations to the Government and recommends that the area of the Park should be reduced by approximately 23 per cent, from 1,638 sq km to 1,267 sq km, excluding a large area in the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (designated in 1962) and the Sussex Downs AONB (designated in 1966).
6. CPRE has been advised by Standing Counsel that the apparent intentions of the Inspector to interpret the terms of reference for re-opening the inquiry very narrowly would make judicial review proceedings likely. Furthermore, the way the landscape Assessor's report was introduced would also be likely to be subject to judicial review. The rules of fairness and natural justice require all parties to be given proper opportunity to challenge and adduce evidence on the major issues that were not adequately canvassed at the previous inquiry, and in respect of which circumstances have changed: particularly the legislative framework.
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