PLANS to make the Cotswolds a National Park ‘do not fit the aspirations’ of West Oxfordshire residents, according to the district council leader.

West Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet rejected the Cotswolds Conservation Board’s (CCB) proposal to upgrade the area from an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) last week.

The CCB says National Park status would bring extra investment and boost tourism, alongside producing a coherent strategy for the region.

This would involve a single body for planning, with representatives from all 15 local authorities in the Cotswolds, which Mr Mills claimed would ‘complicate’ decisions.

He also believes the organisation has not examined all the effects of National Park status and called for the CCB to look beyond tourism.

The council chief said: “Heritage, the environment and the visitor economy are all hugely important to West Oxfordshire.

“But the Cotswolds is a living, breathing community of people that actually live there, and not just tourists.

“There are key areas where they haven’t spoken to as many people as they could have. I don’t think it fits in with the aspirations of local people.”

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The National Park proposal is one of four ambitions in the Cotswolds AONB Management Plan 2018-2023, which the CCB wants each local authority in the AONB to formally endorse by February 1. But councillors rejected this, along with the ambition for the Cotswolds to be the ‘Walking and Exploring Capital of England’.

Officers believe the idea has been promoted ‘without a full assessment of the advantages and disadvantages' and without ‘extensive public consultation’.

The West Oxfordshire Cotswolds span north of the A40 to Chipping Norton, with parts stretching to Woodstock. Mr Mills stressed he wanted to keep an ‘open dialogue’ with the CCB, but he believes the district’s local plan, adopted last September, gives the same weight to conserving the Cotswolds as a National Park plan.

He said: “If you’d asked people a year ago they would have thought it was a fantastic idea. We have a local plan in place which gives a lot of protection to our part of the Cotswolds.”

The Cotswolds receives 23 million visitors a year, the third largest of any protected landscape in the UK.

Three rounds of consultations on the issue began in summer 2017 and director Martin Lane insisted the CCB had acknowledged both ‘advantages and concerns’.

He added: “The Cotswolds is already phenomenally well-known and a national park would bring the additional facilities.

“The investment in national parks is greater than we’re able to invest, so this additional resource would benefit the tourism industry and visitors who come here.”

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Jim Clemence, a trustee of Friends of the West Oxfordshire Cotswolds charity, also supported the plan.

He said: “This hugely important national landscape and tourism asset badly needs the recognition and joined-up high quality management that National Park status would bring.

“The proposal is not about additional protection but it will help ensure existing protections are properly and consistently applied so that the nation’s goals of conserving and enhancing the landscape, and promoting the enjoyment of it, are delivered.”