BEHIND THE HEADLINES
BEHIND THE HEADLINES
Are the rules of development in our national parks fit for purpose?
We all love visiting the marvellous landscapes of our most prestigious protected areas – but some people living there argue that tight planning regulations can limit their prospects and lives. How are the needs of individuals balanced against the conservation requirements of national parks? BBC Countryfile Magazine investigates...
Our national parks cover 10% of Britain’s land. In many parts of the world, national parks are remote wilderness areas barely troubled by humans or industry. But in England, Wales and Scotland (there aren’t any in Northern Ireland), many national parks are home to significant populations of permanent residents.
The parks also play host to more than 100 million visitors every year, drawn to the breathtaking beauty of their coasts and landscapes. The tourism spend is over £500 million pounds a year – so visitors clearly love the special qualities of the national parks in which they holiday.
Visitors demand high standards, but locals need homes they can afford, as well as schools, jobs and services.
Despite the special planning protections within national park boundaries, the current national push for more housing, employment and improved infrastructure sets up nearirreconcilable tensions between those who see a need for development and those urging conservation of unique and fragile environments. In recent years, several controversial major development projects have been approved that campaigners argue trade economic benefit for irremediable damage to the environment.
This increasing pressure on national parks comes despite legislation stating that if there is a conflict between conservation and people’s enjoyment of the area (this includes the need for housing, employment or tourism), then protecting the environment wins out.
“The legislation and policies are fit for purpose, but the interpretation is not what I’d expect” Professer Lynn Crowe, Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Lynn Crowe of Sheffield Hallam University is the lead author of a recent report on the impact of major development in national parks, commissioned by the National Trust, Campaign for National Parks and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Professor Crowe concludes that in practice, “the legislation and policies are fit for purpose, but the interpretation is not what I’d expect.” bit.ly/2r9xK0R
National Parks England approved 90% of all planning applications made last year: the general average across England was 88%. Looking at major developments alone, 79% were approved, virtually identical to the 80% approved across England. Pro-conservation groups are hoping that the Government will reinforce its commitment to national parks’ stringent legal protections in its much-anticipated statement on plans for the next 25 years of the national environment.
Chief executive of Northumberland National Park, Tony Gates believes the “major development test” – that a development needs to take place in the national park and not anywhere else – is being applied effectively. “No development in a national park would not be the right balance, and nor
would inappropriate development,” he says. “What we have to look out for is ‘death by a thousand cuts’. I think we can get the balance right and we must get it right for the health and wellbeing of our society.” Turn the page for individual views...
A timber-frame newbuild undergoes construction in the rural area of the Lake District National Park, Cumbria