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8th April Bucks Free Press

LETTERS FROM WESTMINSTER: ‘Is it time the Chilterns AONB was given National Park status?’

This week Chesham and Amersham MP Dame Cheryl Gillan writes exclusively to Bucks Free Press readers:

Two million people live within 10 kilometres of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With the excellent public transport links to the capital, it is no wonder that at this time of the year people plan visits from London and elsewhere to share in the tranquillity and beauty of the Chilterns landscape.

Is it time that we should be thinking long-term about the future of the Chilterns, so that future generations will be able to continue to share in the experience that people nowadays take for granted?

I certainly think so, and that is why I am glad that there is to be a review of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so that they can be enhanced and protected.

I think that we should be considering whether the Chilterns could become the latest in the series of National Parks.

The Chilterns are under pressure, not only from infrastructure projects like HS2, but also from the proposal to develop along the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, which will have an impact on the AONB and its settlements.

This is why I am currently canvassing support amongst Parliamentary colleagues to see whether a National Park would give better protections to this unique landscape.

Since 1947, when the National Park designation was introduced, 15 National Parks have been created. The first was in the Peak District, in 1951, with the latest in the South Downs, established in 2009. I can see parallels between the landscape of the South Downs and the Chilterns.

Our chalk landscape is of global as well as national importance. It is an amazing fact, which bears much repeating, that 85 per cent of all the chalk streams in the world are found in England.

They are fragile environments and much hard work goes into maintaining the Chess and the Misbourne. Ancient woodland is another national treasure which needs careful guardianship, as is chalk grassland.

We have an opportunity now with the Government review to evaluate and to lay down markers as to how we cushion these precious areas from future damage. I think we must take it.