THE New Forest will be one of the best National Parks in the UK - but only if everyone works together.

That was the message from former Official Verderer Maldwin Drummond yesterday as the Forest celebrated the first day of its new status.

It now has the same standing as Dartmoor, the Lake District and other areas of outstanding natural beauty that need special protection.

The scheme, which affects more than 34,000 people, will help the Forest fend off development pressures that have been building since the 1960s.

Mr Drummond said: "I think the New Forest will be one of the best National Parks in the country.

"If we get it right, National Park status will be good for the area - but we must all work together to ensure it succeeds."

From April next year, the area will be run by the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA), which will receive £3.5m a year.

Parish councils and pressure groups such as the Commoners' Defence Association (CDA) will also want a say in decisions affecting the National Park.

However, Susan Carter, the NPA's interim chief executive, referred to the "high quality relationships" that existed in the area.

She added: "I'm absolutely sure that the National Park Authority will want to build on the very good relationships that are already here."

The government's decision to award the Forest extra protection has been welcomed by the Council for National Parks (CNP).

CNP policy officer Donna O'Brien said: "Its location in a fast-developing part of south-east England makes the landscape particularly vulnerable and in need of the highest protection."

Supporters of National Park status say the scheme is long overdue, but critics claim it will simply lead to another layer of bureaucracy.

Fears that the scheme will result in even higher house prices have also been expressed.

Richard Manley, chairman of the CDA, said that one of the NPA's top priorities should be the provision of affordable housing for local residents.

"It's obscene that young people who grow up in the Forest villages can't afford to live there," he said.

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael is attending tonight's meeting of the New Forest Consultative Panel to answer questions on the area's new status.

PEOPLE living in the New Forest National Park face a raft of new planning controls.

Extra regulations were brought in yesterday to prevent inappropriate development that could spoil the character and appearance of the specially protected area.

Householders must now seek planning permission for home improvements that did not previously need consent.

A district council spokesman said: "In the past people could normally extend a home by 70 cubic metres without planning permission, but this has now been reduced to 50 cubic metres. Swimming pools in the garden are now more likely to require consent if they are more than ten cubic metres in size.

"Any increase in the size or shape of a roof, including dormer windows, will always need permission.

"People will now need consent if they put up a satellite dish on a chimney, wall or roof of a house that fronts on to a road.

"Householders will require permission if the dish is more than 15 metres from the ground."