Last week I attended National Park UK’s biennial conference. It was a celebration of these extraordinary landscapes and the history that has shaped them, but also an opportunity for reflection, and challenge, about what they have achieved and what their future ambitions should be. Ambition is also at the heart of the Landscapes Review, led by Julian Glover, which was published on Saturday. At Campaign for National Parks we welcome this reinvigorated vision and many of its recommendations – the key challenge now is to maintain momentum.
Originally commissioned by Michael Gove as a comprehensive review of National Parks and AONBs, the review is a wide-ranging document of nearly 200 pages and 27 recommendations. The basic thrust, however, is summed up in the introduction: “Though there’s much that is good, we should not be satisfied with what we have at the moment. It falls far short of what can be achieved and what the people of our country want.” It argues that our designated landscapes are fragile, the nature within them is “in crisis”, and that “communities are changing and that many do not know these places”.
This analysis sets the framework for the recommendations that follow, most of which relate to National Parks and AONBs, and which are broadly focused on two core themes: place and people. The need to address the dreadfully depleted position of nature in our designated landscapes, as we and others argued, has been fully recognised in the review. The report calls for our national landscapes “to lead the way in nature recovery”, and the key recommendations focus on restoring nature and protecting natural capital, underpinned by an updated statutory purpose for conservation. It also proposes strengthening the protections given to national landscapes, including by requiring other public bodies to help further their purposes.
The vital importance of engaging people, particularly under-represented communities, in our national landscapes is the second core theme. The aim is twofold: to encourage more people to enjoy the natural world, and to ensure designated landscapes are more proactive in supporting public health. The underlying premise is that our national landscapes “should be a positive force for the nation’s wellbeing” and this should again be underpinned by updating the statutory purpose on recreation. Interestingly, the report proposes extending this duty, currently restricted to National Parks, to AONBs. It also recommends a revised duty to ensure a landscape’s “economic and community vitality” supports the first two purposes.
The most eye catching proposal is “a night under the stars” for every child in a National Park or an AONB, but there are other important recommendations designed to increase diversity, encourage volunteering, and support more sustainable tourism. There are also significant proposals for local communities, such as a National Landscape Housing Association, to build affordable homes.
There is a critical third element to the report underpinning nearly all the recommendations and clearly seen as essential by the review panel. A wide range of reforms to the structures and governance of National Park Authorities (NPAs) and AONBs is proposed, including a new National Landscape Service (NLS). A separate organisation, its remit would include developing a strategic vision for national landscapes, overseeing the delivery of enhanced management plans, and providing a range of corporate services for national landscape bodies.
It is also proposed that the NLS should support NPAs and AONBs to develop “a new financial model”. While the report argues that government funding should continue, it also calls for new sources of funding to be developed, such as trading and charitable giving. Collectively, these proposals have the potential to create a more strategic, co-ordinated and accountable approach, but as in so many other areas it is all about implementation. Proposed changes to the composition of NPA planning committees and new types of income could, for example, create as yet unforeseen tensions.
At Campaign for National Parks we welcome the Glover Review’s overarching vision and many of its recommendations for place and people. It gives our argument, that National Parks need to achieve much more, a vital new impetus, and we are now examining the proposals in detail. The critical issue is, of course, how government will respond. The report’s ambition was broadly welcomed by Theresa Villiers, the Environment Secretary, but we must ensure the momentum continues. Furthermore, as the report acknowledges, our National Parks and other designated landscapes are also shaped by issues beyond the review, such as agricultural payments policy. There is a lot of work to do.
Corinne Pluchino, CEO at Campaign for National Parks
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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