A step up for England’s protected landscapes

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The government has, at last, announced its response to the Landscapes Review in England.  The review, led by journalist Julian Glover, was published in September 2019, more than two years ago, and made ambitious recommendations for the future of our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

In his foreword to the response Defra Minister Richard Benyon recognises that the last two years have shown ‘the benefit that people get from having access to nature-rich landscapes’.  He says that ‘improving public access to our protected landscapes is a priority’ and that ‘I am determined that our protected landscapes will be accessible to all’.

The Edale valley from Hollins Cross, Peak District National Park

The recommendations in the response which are relevant to our interests include:

  • A ‘transformational approach to AONB leadership and management’, with the possible renaming of AONBs as ‘National Landscapes’ to reflect their national significance.
  • A new national landscapes partnership (confusingly, this would cover national parks and AONBs) to develop the existing collaboration between the protected landscapes.
  • A ‘reinvigorated’ role for Natural England as statutory adviser on England’s landscapes, advising all relevant parts of government, at national and local levels, on the appropriate management and protection of national parks and AONBs.

    Robin Hood’s Bay, North York Moors National Park

  • A more explicit statutory purpose to drive nature recovery, for national parks and AONBs.
  • A strengthened second statutory purpose for national parks, relating to public understanding and enjoyment, to connect all parts of society, and to give AONBs the same statutory purposes as national parks.
  • Consideration of expanding open-access rights as part of the forthcoming review of access maps.
  • National trails to be more joined up with protected landscapes, with a new charity formed as a single strategic body for them.
  • Greater enforcement powers for national park authorities to help manage visitor pressure.
  • Greater weight for special qualities of protected landscapes in planning policies, procedures and decisions, with AONBs having statutory consultee status for planning applications.
  • Strengthened statutory duty for public bodies: the current ‘have regard to the statutory purposes’ is too weak; public bodies should be expected to contribute to the preparation, implementation and delivery of management plans.

Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘Much of this is encouraging, and we are pleased to see the proposed strengthened statutory purposes and stronger requirements on public bodies; the focus on public access and enjoyment, and recognition of these landscapes’ immense contribution to people’s health and well-being, and in mitigating the climate crisis.

Long Mynd, Shropshire Hills

Long Mynd, Shropshire Hills AONB

‘We are also relieved that government has dropped the idea of an expensive and bureaucratic new National Landscape Service—the proposed partnership is much more appropriate.  However, we are not clear how greater public access, from all parts of society, will be achieved, and we would like to see a commitment to extending access to land and water which goes far beyond the opportunities provided by the review of the access maps.

‘We may well wish to oppose some of the proposed enforcement measures to “help manage visitor pressure”, when education should be the solution.

‘These changes will need resources, for the “reinvigorated” Natural England and the authorities themselves.  The government concedes that there is insufficient funding in the core grant to deliver the vision.  It proposes use of private funding, but this feels deeply uncomfortable for national assets which are our natural health service.  They should be funded by the nation—and all government departments should be involved.’

There is a consultation on the government’s response, which runs until 9 April.  We shall be responding.

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