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A critical time for National Parks – Government action needed

Ruth Bradshaw, Policy and Research Manager at Campaign for National Parks, writes about what Government action is needed to deliver the bold and ambitious vision for designated landscapes that Glover proposed.

December 2021

The publication of the Glover Landscapes Review in September 2019 was an exciting time for anyone with an interest in England’s National Parks. But, as you might imagine, it was a particularly big deal for all of us at Campaign for National Parks.

Important first steps

It was great to see many of the changes we’d called for in the report and there was much that we welcomed in Glover’s ambitious agenda for the future of designated landscapes, including:

  • Amending the statutory purposes to give stronger support for natural beauty, nature recovery and connecting people to nature.
  • Strengthening Management Plans to ensure they deliver more for climate change and nature recovery.
  • Introducing new duties on other bodies to help protect and enhance these special places.
  • A renewed emphasis on ensuring everyone, no matter their background, can visit our National Parks, including more support for initiatives like the Campaign for National Parks Mosaic programme.
  • Increased resources and multi-year funding to allow designated landscape bodies to plan more effectively.

The publication of this review was a really important step towards ensuring our National Parks are fit for purpose in the 21st Century. But it was only a first step – it is what Government chooses to do with Glover’s proposals that really matters. After waiting more than two years, it looks like the Government response may finally be with us soon.

A changing world

A lot has happened in those two and a bit years. The pandemic has demonstrated just how invaluable designated landscapes are for the nation’s health and well-being. Providing city-dwellers with opportunities for fresh air and recreation has proved to be even more important than when our designated landscapes were first created. The climate and nature emergencies have become even more pressing and species loss and other damage to the natural environment need tackling with even greater urgency than when Glover flagged them in his report.

Glover has always been very clear that his proposals should be implemented as a whole package rather than in parts. While there are elements of that package that we believe need some refining – I’ll return to this later - what we really don’t want to happen is for Government to ‘cherry pick’ the quick wins and make a few headline-grabbing announcements and then ignore the more substantial changes.

New legislation needed

What we do want is a new Nature and Landscapes Bill to implement those proposals which require legislative change including:

  • Amending the statutory purposes.
  • Strengthening Management Plans and introducing specific requirements for these, such as nature recovery and tackling climate change.
  • Requiring relevant bodies to support the development and implementation of Management Plans and strengthening the duty ‘of regard’ to require a ‘furthering’ of the purposes.
  • Amending Natural England’s duties to make them more accountable for the delivery of the Management Plans for designated landscapes.

Many of the improvements anticipated by Glover are dependent on developing, and agreeing, amended purposes for designated landscapes. This isn’t going to be easy, but that makes it all the more important that the Government starts this process as quickly as possible.

For People, Nature and Climate

We urgently need our designated landscapes to be doing far more to contribute to the 30x30 target, which will only happen if there is a greater emphasis on nature recovery in the purposes. We also need to ensure designated landscapes continue to be places where people can connect with nature. Then, of course, there’s the key role that these areas must play in tackling the climate emergency as highlighted in our recent National Parks and the Climate Emergency report.

While Glover was clear that the Management Plans for designated landscapes should be doing more to respond to climate change, he didn’t actually propose this for inclusion in the amended purposes. But it would be a missed opportunity if climate wasn’t addressed alongside the other changes Glover is calling for, particularly as our research found that climate change has not always been given as much priority in the past because it isn’t currently included in the statutory purposes. We were really pleased to hear Lord Benyon, the Minister for National Parks, emphasising the vital role that National Parks play in tackling climate change when he addressed our Council meeting recently.

A question of governance

So, then what of the Glover proposals that we think need refining? The main area where we part company with him is on governance. We agree that National Park governance needs to change and we support Glover’s proposal to reduce the size of National Park Authority (NPA) Boards. We also support the principles of ensuring that NPA governance is more effective, more focused on delivering National Park purposes and more representative of the population.

However, we don’t believe that some of the proposals put forward by Glover will address these issues effectively. We are particularly concerned about the proposals to change the composition of the main NPA Board and set up a separate planning sub-committee. This separation fails to take account of the key role that planning plays in helping to deliver the statutory purposes and it makes little sense to delegate this important responsibility to a committee, the majority of whose members have not been appointed to the NPA.

Beyond Glover

There are simpler and more cost-effective ways of improving the quality of governance which could be implemented quickly. Measures such as fixed terms, maximum lengths of service, compulsory training, role descriptions and appraisal for all members should be introduced and their impacts assessed before any more radical reforms to governance are taken forward. These improvements would increase the turnover of members and ensure that all members take full account of the specific responsibilities of their role when making decisions. In the short-term, this should result in a stronger emphasis on the statutory purposes in all NPA planning decisions.

In the longer term, with amended purposes and the other statutory changes set out above, this will help ensure that it really is possible to deliver the bold and ambitious vision for designated landscapes that Glover proposed.

As we celebrate the 70th anniversaries of the first National Parks in England and Wales, Campaign for National Parks has been asking people for their vision for National Parks over the next 70 years. Some of these visions could be realised by implementing the Glover proposals, others require even bigger ambition. 

Ruth Bradshaw is Policy and Research Manager at Campaign for National Parks.

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