A DRAMATIC increase in tourism was predicted for the South Downs on the day it officially became a national park.
Hundreds of onlookers packed Petersfield yesterday to witness an opening ceremony of children singing, speeches and demonstrations of activities available inside the park.
Bells were sounded at churches across the South Downs to mark the occasion and a huge map was unveiled showing the park boundary, which stretches almost 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne.
The park will be governed by the new South Downs National Park Authority and is the tenth national park in England.
East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds believed the region’s pubs, shops, post offices and businesses would be boosted because more people from London would visit.
He said: ‘We have to make the most of it. The South Downs has so much to offer Petersfield and the other market towns and villages in the area. It is a great story to be able to sell and it is only an hour out of London.’
Gareth Gammon, of event organisers Petersfield Tomorrow, felt national park status would attract tourists from even further afield.
He said: ‘There’s something like five million people who live within an hour’s drive of the national park, so all of a sudden the brand of the national park is going to bring people down from London, particularly with the Hindhead tunnel opening.’
Yesterday’s celebrations came more than 60 years after the area was first recommended as a national park and a decade since the government announced its intention to give it that status.
The area of rolling chalk upland, river valleys and woodlands includes parts of east Hampshire and the Chichester area.
Now the South Downs National Park Authority will be responsible for all planning within the park and with 4,000 planning applications a year it will be one of the largest planning authorities in the country.
However the 15 councils within the park’s boundaries will provide many of the day to day planning services on its behalf.
Authority chairwoman Margaret Paren said: ‘This is a long-awaited and historic day for everyone who loves the South Downs.’