A GROUP of MPs has called on Natural England to upgrade the North Wessex Downs to a national park.

Kit Malthouse, the MP for North West Hampshire, has co-signed a letter to the public body urging for the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) to be upgraded.

The MPS say the move would afford greater protections for the natural area from the expansion of towns such as Andover and Basingstoke, as well as more government funding.

The letter, to the chair of Natural England, Dr Tony Juniper CBE, has also been signed by Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon), Laura Farris (Newbury), Danny Kruger (Devizes) and Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West).

Mr Malthouse said: "We’re very fortunate to have the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on our doorstep. It is the third largest landscape in our country, and we must work together to preserve it. 

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Andover Advertiser: Policing and crime minister Kit Malthouse."Upgrading it to a national park would offer it far greater protection from the many towns expanding towards its boundary, and it allow more funding from DEFRA. 

"We all have a responsibility to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area for future generations to come.

“I hope that Natural England will agree and take the necessary steps to upgrade the area into a national park.”

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In the letter, the MPs also say that they increasingly have to object to planning applications which they believe would be harmful to the area.

National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty have the same “highest” level of protection in national planning policy from damaging development. However, in practice, AONBs suffer much more harm from built development within their boundaries and in their setting than national parks.

 Local planning authorities in whose area AONBs lie, are also subject to housebuilding targets — and all too often planning applications are submitted which take little account of the area that is covered by a nationally protected landscape, or the capacity of the landscape to accommodate change without harming its qualities.