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Levelling Up National Parks and AONBs

Rose O'Neill of Campaign for National Parks and David Hampson of RSPB write on the opportunity to deliver crucial improvements to National Parks and AONBs through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

August 2022

We’re coming to an end of a long, hot summer and our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) have seen the very best and worst of it. Millions of people have taken a break from the pressures of everyday life and worries about cost of living by seeking escape in their glorious beaches, mountains, meadows and moorland. However, the drought has hit these special places hard, drying rivers, turning lakes green. These changes, and the devastating wildfires that have reaped destruction, give us a real vision of the climate future that awaits.

By any measure, this summer has shown us that our National Parks and AONBs do not have the powers needed to adequately protect and restore them. As the country awaits its new Prime Minister, it’s clear that whoever leads the government in the months ahead, it is absolutely crucial that they prioritise the nature and climate emergencies, and put the recovery of protected landscapes front and centre. We urgently need new legislation and investment.

The powers that protect our National Parks and AONBs were put in place in the decades before biodiversity loss and climate change took hold. It is not enough to simply defend them – we need new laws to work much harder. The good news is that there is widespread support for this and for the government’s own proposals to do so, set out in response to the Glover Review. We just need urgent action to take them forward, which is why we, with the Better Planning Coalition, are seeking amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

New powers and investment for National Parks and AONBs are critical to ensuring the country is able to meet the levelling up missions at the heart of the Bill (especially health, wellbeing and pride of place). It’s essential for meeting the UK’s statutory climate and nature commitments and crucial to our long term economic future. As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, it will be even more important to ensure that our National Parks and AONBs are rich in nature that everyone can enjoy, sharing the significant benefits to health and wellbeing.

Our National Parks and AONBs have deep working-class roots, their creation being the result of a social movement to give ‘green lungs’ back to working people so that they could escape the city for health and recreation. But along the way in the 70 years since, working people, and people of colour have been left behind, with national statistics showing visitors to be largely affluent and white. This is why we’re seeking changes to make equality explicit in legislation to ensure authorities make inclusivity a priority, alongside other changes to law that will prioritise nature recovery, strengthen management and governance and require action from all public bodies, such as water companies and highways authorities.

We’re proposing four key changes, carrying forward key recommendations from the Glover Review, the majority of which were accepted by the government in their response to the review earlier this year. National Parks and AONBs need:

1) Purposes fit for today’s challenges, to give National Parks and AONBs a renewed mission to actively recover biodiversity and nature and ensure equality of opportunity to connect with nature.
2) Updated and strengthened duties on public bodies including to tackle climate change, and to require all public bodies to further National Park and AONB purposes.
3) Better Management Plans that contain targets, actions and accountability for delivery.
4) Reformed National Park Authority boards to increase diversity and ensure capability to drive action.

As the only legislation touching on environmental matters and the planning system on the horizon, a failure to deliver key Glover Review recommendations through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will see these essential reforms, facing an uncertain future. These are vital years for meeting the commitment to protect 30% of England for nature by 2030, for halting the decline in species abundance and making progress towards net zero. This summer’s fires and drought have shown the consequences of too much delay.

Rose O’Neill
, CEO, Campaign for National Parks @RoseONei11
David Hampson
, Policy Officer, RSPB @DavidKHampson

You can get involved in the work of Campaign for National Parks here and the RSPB here.

The Campaign for National Parks, RSPB and other Link members are working with the Better Planning Coalition to support parliamentarians to table amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to deliver key Glover Review recommendations.

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