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The 25 Year Plan must protect National Parks

The UK’s first National Parks were created in the 1940s as part of the same post-war drive to improve the nation’s well-being that also saw the establishment of the NHS and the extension of the welfare state. Now, nearly seven decades later, they cover nearly 10% of England and are enjoyed by tens of millions of visitors every year.

December 2016

These beautiful and inspiring landscapes are designated for their natural beauty, cultural heritage and recreational opportunities. They also make a huge contribution to the economy – tourism alone brings in £4 billion a year and supports around 70,000 jobs. These are living, working landscapes shaped by centuries of human activity but from their earliest days there has been a recognition that development in National Parks needs to be managed carefully in order to protect their special qualities.

National Parks now have the highest level of planning protection and central to this is the policy that major developments should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. Sadly, this additional protection does not always prevent damaging development from taking place in, or close to, National Parks.

We’ve been concerned about the effectiveness of planning protection for National Parks for some time, particularly since last year’s decision by the North York Moors National Park Authority (NPA) to grant permission for the world’s largest potash mine despite the proposal clearly being in conflict with National Park purposes. Earlier this year, the Campaign for National Parks, the National Trust and CPRE jointly commissioned Sheffield Hallam University to examine the planning process for major developments in, or just outside, National Parks and identify whether changes are needed. National Parks – Planning for the Future is a new report from the three organisations which summarises the key findings from this research and sets out recommendations for change.

The research findings are based on an analysis of around 70 major development planning applications and one of the most striking findings from the research is the influence that the messages coming from Central Government have on decisions at a local level. Inappropriate development is more likely to be approved when there is a lack of emphasis on environmental protection at a national level so we’re calling for strong messages from Government about the importance of protecting National Parks. There’s a perfect opportunity for these messages to be delivered as part of the 25 Year Environment Plan which is expected to be published for consultation shortly. We want the Plan to state clearly how the Government will ensure the long-term protection and enhancement of National Parks.

In addition, the Government needs to send strong messages about the importance of National Park protection to developers and all those responsible for making decisions on development in National Parks and their settings, including neighbouring planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate. We believe this should be addressed by a Ministerial Statement which emphasises the specific duties and responsibilities that apply in these areas.

Another significant finding from the research is the important role that EU regulations have played in protecting National Parks from damaging developments. The European Commission’s recent decision to save the Birds and Habitats Directives is really welcome news but if National Parks are to benefit from this protection in future, the Government must maintain strong protections for nature after the UK leaves the European Union.

Our National Parks are special places with huge potential to improve the nation’s health and well-being so it’s essential that these areas are better protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy. The changes we’re calling for will help achieve this.

Ruth Bradshaw

Policy and Research Manager

Campaign for National Parks

Find the Campaign for National Parks on Twitter @Campaign4Parks

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.