DORSET Council is split over National Park status for the county.

Tory cabinet members, who control the council, say it would interfere with local decisions on housing and other policies and are opposing it – but some councillors claim it would bring extra investment into the area and should be welcomed.

Cllr Simon Christopher (Con, Marshwood Vale) told fellow councillors that he would fight for National Park status – claiming it would improve the economy in his ward and increase year-round tourism.

“National Park status will boost the economy and local wages…we must be positive and not negative about it. Our market towns would benefit and places like the leisure centre at Bridport would get additional visitors in the winter,” he said.

Another Conservative, Cllr Pauline Batstone (Sturminster Newton) fell short of outright criticism of the cabinet decision to oppose the Park plan, or anything else which interfers with local decision making, saying she wished a report to councillors and a summary from the planning brief holder, had been more positive.

She said that in her area farmers were suspicious of the idea but the town residents were more positive about the benefits National Park status might bring.

Cabinet planning brief holder Cllr David Walsh said he could see no benefits in National Park status apart from an extra level or bureaucracy and the loss of control over planning issues, including where and how to meet local housing targets. He said it would be better for the Government to give more funding to the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team instead.

Cllr Walsh claimed that if a National Park for Dorset were agreed it’s governing body, not the council, would set its own housing levels – leaving the remaining half of the county having to find the land to meet Government targets for new homes, putting unnecessary pressure on areas outside the Park. He said it would also mean the new council having to consult not only with the new Park authority, but also with East Devon council as well.

He said the county would have more control over its own destiny by keeping its planning guidance with the new Local Plan which should be in place by 2024 – a move backed by cabinet vote.

But Richard Brown, from the group promoting the National Park for Dorset and East Devon, said the status would be in the long-term interest of the county, bringing more investment and helping to promote tourism, affordable housing and support local services. He said that gaining the status could be worth £10million a year to the local economy, a figure which Cllr Walsh described as ‘speculative.’

Lib Dem leader on the council, Nick Ireland, asked for the council to consider a more positive approach to National Park status which he said could help pay for looking after Dorset’s many Sites of Special Scientific Interest, rights of way, and features such as the chalk carving of the King and white horse on the approach into Weymouth from the east.

The comments were made during a debate on the Government’s landscape review, known as the Glover Report.

Although Dorset was one of the areas first listed for National Park status more than 70 years ago there has still been no decision on whether or not to confer the status on much of the coast and rural county, together with parts of East Devon, as campaigners would like.

Dorset had been removed from potential National Park sites in the face of opposition from the ministry of defence which was then reluctant to give up some of its heathland training areas.

The review assesses whether there is scope for the current network of 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 10 National Parks to be expanded.

The Landscapes Review final report was published on 21st September 2019, in time to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the National Park legislation.

Dorset Council is expected to again debate the issue when the Government produces its response to the report, although the cabinet decision sets out the expected direction for member of the Conservative majority on the authority. It is not tied solely to National Park status, but also includes other legislation or changes which may affect local decision making.