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New chairman and deputy chairman elected to lead South Downs National Park

A landscape architect with a long-standing passion for the natural environment has been elected as the new chairman of the South Downs National Park Authority.


Ian Phillips was elected at yesterday’s annual general meeting, succeeding Margaret Paren who had been chairman of the South Downs National Park Authority since the Authority’s inaugural meeting in April 2010.


Ian paid tribute at the meeting to the tireless work and dedication of Margaret, who was one of the early campaigners for the creation of the South Downs National Park and was awarded the OBE in 2012 for services to the environment.


Ian said: “Margaret’s commitment to the South Downs National Park has left a legacy that will endure and, on behalf of the suthority, I thank her for the energy and enthusiasm that has helped to shape the evolution of England’s youngest protected landscape.



“It is a real honour to be elected as chairman and a privilege to help shape the park’s progress as part of such a highly-motivated and enthusiastic organisation of staff and members. I look forward to working with the park’s many supporters and friends.”


Ian was a national appointment to the authority in 2013 and, after serving on the planning committee, was elected feputy chairman last year. A chartered landscape architect and town planning consultant, he has decades of experience in the local government, environmental, not-for-profit and private sectors and also served as vice president of the Landscape Institute for four years.


Growing up in Brighton gave him opportunities to explore and enjoy the South Downs landscape and this experience became a major influence in his decision to pursue landscape architecture as a career. He is passionate about connecting people with the landscape and sees the vital role that the National Park plays, sitting at the heart of the green infrastructure of the South East.


He now lives in Farnham with his wife and twin daughters and enjoys photography, interesting food and travelling.


Ian added: “I have felt a close affinity with the Downs ever since my early childhood visits on an open-top bus to the Devil’s Dyke. As chairman of the National Park Authority, I want to progress the vision of a ‘People’s Park’ by working with our existing communities and engaging with new audiences.



“The South Downs is a living, changing landscape and I see our role as helping to manage the inevitable changes that will affect this precious landscape, so that the new is as highly valued as the traditional.”


Stepping down as chairman as the South Downs National Park marks its tenth anniversary this year, Margaret said: “It has been a great privilege to have been involved with the South Downs National Park since its establishment in 2010.



“It was born in the midst of austerity and now, in its 10th year, faces the enormous challenges created by Covid-19 and its aftermath. I am confident that the authority will continue its work of enhancing this wonderful landscape, while offering its full support to the communities of the national park in this difficult time. I offer the South Downs my heartfelt good wishes for the future.”


The annual general meeting also saw the election of Vanessa Rowlands as deputy chairman.


Vanessa was appointed by the East Sussex Parishes in June 2019 and has lived in the Cuckmere Valley for the past 16 years.


With a background in the creative arts, she is passionate about the region’s world-class museums, galleries and historic towns and villages. A keen environmentalist, Vanessa is a supporter of sustainability and the conservation of natural habitats. Vanessa spends her free time running on the South Downs and supporting the various heritage institutions near where she lives.


Vanessa said: “It’s an honour to be elected deputy chairman and, as I take on this role, I’m reminded of the history of national parks and why they were created –  as precious landscapes that needed protecting and the wider public having the right to enjoy them.


“Post pandemic, our national landscapes must play a central role in the nation’s green recovery, putting nature at the heart of the economy. We must restore biodiversity through nature recovery and shape landscapes like the South Downs to be resilient to climate change.


“Lockdown has clearly shown the powerful effect nature can have on mental health. We must do all we can to make sure the South Downs National Park plays a major role in what should be the Natural Health Service, encouraging those who may have taken their first walk in the countryside for many years to come back regularly and note the positive effect it has had on their wellbeing.”


Margaret was presented by staff and Members with a beautiful stained-glass artwork that captures the history of the past ten years.


Trevor Beattie, chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, added: “On behalf of the Authority, we want to say a huge thank you to Margaret for all she has helped us to achieve. We now look to embrace the challenges and opportunities ahead with the leadership of Ian and Vanessa, who both bring significant knowledge, expertise, and acumen to the authority.”


The chairman and deputy chairman are key strategic roles, guiding the National Park Authority’s work, maintaining political links with local councils and other agencies, and supporting the authority in fulfilling its statutory purposes.

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