South Shropshire 'could not cope' with tourism influx if it becomes a National Park
Fears have been raised that south Shropshire’s environment and infrastructure would not cope with the influx of tourism that would come if the area was to be designated a National Park.
While supporters argue the status would draw in tourists and boost the rural economy, others have reservations around a possible rise in house prices, the strain greater planning regulations would have on local people, and the potentially negative impact they say more visitors could have.
More than 40 members of the public joined councillors for a debate on the concept at Elim Church in Ludlow.
Councillor Andy Boddington, who represents Ludlow North, is leading the calls. He said a National Park could swallow up the existing Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as well as Ironbridge, the Wrekin and Mortimer Forest in North Herefordshire.
But chartered surveyor David Appleton told the meeting: “South Shropshire is a large area to be a National Park.
“The boundary of a National Park usually follows natural features. The idea that we go into Mortimer Forest is fine but I’m not sure how we tag that on to the Shropshire Hills.”
Councillor Tracey Huffer, who represents Ludlow East, said she had “massive reservations.”
Councillor Huffer said: “In the farming community stress levels are already beyond anything we have ever experienced.
“The AONB is already so restrictive. There are young couples and children of farmers who would love to build on their family farms but can’t.
“If we want to put in a footpath or do anything at our farm we have got to fill in form after form.”
Councillor Huffer added: “On a Sunday we can have 50 people crossing our farm and 90 per cent of them are great. But 10 per cent are an absolute nightmare. I love seeing the public – but I don’t want to see more of them.
“Farmers are under terrific pressure and they do not need any more.”
Another problem raised was the condition of the area’s roads. Felicity Edwards said: “What about the infrastructure? Our roads are appalling. The A49 is dreadful, let alone the B roads. And what about parking in Ludlow, which is already a big problem? The infrastructure would need to be looked at before this goes further.”
Another issue was house prices, but Councillor Boddington said National Park status itself would not necessarily drive up house prices any more than living in a picturesque area already did. He also said more affordable housing should be built to retain young people in the area.
Discussion about the possibility of south Shropshire becoming a National Park has come about as a result of a Government review of its designated landscapes.
Phil Holden, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership manager, told the meeting he had met with Julian Glover, who is undertaking the review, in London that morning.
He said the review would not conclude that Shropshire should become a National Park, but it may recommend to the Government that more National Parks could be created.
But he said if that were the case, the process towards designation could take upwards of 10 years.
Councillor Boddington said this was why it was important to get the ball rolling now.
Councillor Richard Huffer, who represents Clee, said it was not the right time for the move. He said: “The implications of Brexit on agriculture are going to be enormous. None of us know how it is going to pan out but the implications of a hard Brexit have have the capability of being absolutely devastating to agriculture.
“I would be very reticent at this point in time to have any more restrictions put on agriculture.”
Closing the meeting councillor Boddington said: “The idea is that we just get the debate underway and if we are going to go down this route then we need to start thinking about it now.
“What we are doing is setting the foundations and looking at the future.”
Resident Mary Smith agreed, adding: “If we stay the way we are and just do nothing, what will our young people think of us in 40 years?
“We need to start the planning so they can take the ball and roll with it. We must show them there is a future.”