In April 2000, the Countryside Agency decided that the South Downs met the criteria for a National Park. The Agency consulted widely on proposals for a National Park before making a Designation Order on 18 December 2002. The Agency submitted the Order to the Secretary of State on 4 February 2003 and placed it on public deposit from 27 January 2003 to 28 February 2003. As a result, around 5,000 objections and representations, including many expressions of support, have been received. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 requires an inquiry be held into a Designation Order if a local authority has objected and the objection is not withdrawn. Several local authorities have made objections and, so far, have not withdrawn them. Consequently, a local inquiry will be called.A letter is being sent to all those who have made objections or representations advising them of the intention to hold an inquiry and what the scope will be. A copy will be placed in the library of the House. The inquiry is expected to start towards the end of this year. In the period up to its start, the Countryside Agency will negotiate with objectors to see if their concerns can be overcome, enabling them to withdraw their objections.The Countryside Agency has also advised that a National Park Authority should be established for the South Downs so the inquiry will hear representations on that related issue. Objections will also be heard into the Countryside Agency's Orders to revoke the designations of the Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These areas will largely be contained in the South Downs National Park, if the Designation Order is confirmed, and the proposed de-designation is consequent on the proposal to establish a National Park.
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life