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National Parks

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publish the Government's response to the Countryside Commission's review of national parks.

My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Wales have today published the Government's response to the national parks review. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.The Government are grateful to the Countryside Commission for initiating a review of the policies and practices of the national parks in England and Wales. The review was undertaken by an independent panel under the chairmanship of Professor Ron Edwards. He and his team are to be congratulated on their work, which was wide ranging and thorough.The Government reiterate in the strongest terms their commitment to the national parks. We have addressed those recommendations, drawn from the review, which were commended to us by the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales. Our response is a positive one which reflects our concern to ensure the future of the parks into the next century and strikes a balance between the park purposes of conservation and public enjoyment on the one hand and the needs of those who live and work in them on the other. We are confident that our response is the firmest assurance to all those who cherish the parks that their future is secure and that the proper protection and management of Britain's finest landscapes is assured.The response confirms our intention to create all national park authorities as independent bodies, as the Lake District and Peak District already are, though still within the local government framework. We propose further detailed consultation on the membership of national park authorities designed to secure, among other things, truly local representation and to explore the establishment of local consultative bodies for each park to ensure that the views of those who live and work in the parks are fully taken into account in the policies and practices of park authorities.The Government intend to restate national park purposes to refer expressly to quiet enjoyment and understanding and to conservation of the wildlife and cultural heritage; to take steps to ensure that responsibility for detailed planning in their areas should rest with national park authorities; and to invite local highway authorities, where they have not already done so, to delegate rights of way responsibilities to national park authorities.The Government's objective is that major development should not take place in the national parks save in exceptional circumstances, but, if it is, the work should be done to high environmental standards. Because of the serious impact that major developments may have on the natural beauty of the parks, applications for such development must be subject to the most rigorous examination. In our response, we have developed a single test against which all major proposals should be considered.We also intend to consider further the countryside agencies' recommendations that there should be a statutory duty on Ministers and public agencies in the exercise of their responsibilities as they affect national parks. In considering the wording of such a duty, it will be necessary to recognise that it cannot simply override the purposes or objectives of individual Ministers or public bodies but should be designed to ensure that they take national parks' purposes into account in any situation where there is a potential conflict.The Countryside Commission endorsed the review panel's conclusion that the New Forest should be formally recognised as a national park with a tailor-made constitution. The New Forest is a uniquely valuable area in landscape and nature conservation terms and it deserves the strongest protection in keeping with its national and international importance, while accepting the review panel's conclusion that it would not be appropriate to establish the New Forest as a national park under the 1949 legislation. We believe, however, that the recommendations put forward by the New Forest committee—on which the national and local government bodies with interests in the forest are represented—provide a sound basis for achieving improved protection. The Government therefore intend to take steps to designate the New Forest area as one of national significance within which the strongest protection of landscape and scenic beauty should apply. With this would be linked a mechanism for funding and statutory status for the committee to reflect its role in co-ordinating the management of the area. The position would be essentially analogous to that of the Broads which enjoys the same degree of protection as a national park but has its own institutional arrangements tailored to the local situation. Following local consultation legislation will be needed to implement these proposals.The Government look to the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales to work closely with the national park authorities in carrying forward those recommendations of the review panel which do not call for direct Government action.