Welsh National Parks Face worst cuts of all Local Authorities
For Snowdonia, after 14% cuts over the last two years, the 2016/17 budget will be cut by a further 5%, which is 10 times the level facing Cardiff.
It is disappointing to have to compare our situation with that over the border. In England the budgets of National Parks are protected for the next four years with a 1.2% annual increase and extra money towards the costs of the newly joined-up Lakes-Dales extension. If the Westminster Government is pro-austerity and pro-National Park, what does that say about Cardiff? Welsh National Parks are facing worse cuts than any other sector, which could be interpreted as evidence that, although not publicly stated, the aim is to dispense with the National Park system as we know it.
Carl Sargeant sits on Prof Marsden’s report
In Wales the importance of our National Parks has been endorsed by two official reviews in the last two years – the Williams Commission on Public Services, and the Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales, led by Professor Marsden.
The Marsden review was a substantial piece of work put together in two stages by an experienced team drawing on wide-ranging evidence. But Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Natural Resources, made clear his views on the Stage One report by suggesting that Professor Marsden and his panel might like to rethink their conclusions. When the Stage Two report was produced the Minister sat on it for several months before brushing it aside and replacing it with a new process called Future Landscapes Wales.
The Future Landscapes Wales programme is, according to its participants, a confused mess. It is hard to tell whether it is simply an elaborate attempt to kick the Marsden report into the long grass, or something altogether more insidious.
Minister for Natural Resources threatens National Parks
Contrary to advice from the government’s own Environment Committee, the Minister for Natural Resources slipped in an amendment to the Planning (Wales) Act empowering the Assembly to remove planning powers from National Park Authorities. Planning powers are the only teeth available to defend our Parks from inappropriate and damaging development. With this move, the Minister put a knife to the throat of National Parks in Wales.
Our fear is that we have a government which is both exhilarated and deafened by the rushing noise of change, which understands the needs of industry but struggles to understand the needs of people and of the places that matter to them.
Snowdonia National Park Authority’s response under pressure
In our work with Snowdonia National Park Authority we are impressed by the energy of staff in developing new projects even as resources shrink. Current examples include the Dark Sky initiative, the development of Yr Ysgwrn, the Snowdon Partnership, and a major project on the land-use heritage and landscapes of the Carneddau. On the ground then, we see our National Park delivering more for less, whilst also making progress on the financial sustainability of its activities. This looks positive – a public body getting leaner and fitter. The problem is that the National Park’s half-full glass is held in a grip which is steadily tightening. The risk is that the glass shatters under further pressure, with messy consequences.
Time to act
Across Wales the third sector is regrouping, bringing together nature and landscape conservation, tourism and outdoor recreation. We have a message for civil servants in Cardiff, for Ministers, and for the prospective AMs who will want our support in May: we want National Parks to be properly supported, protected and resourced.
National Parks are a good example of an old idea which works. National Parks are living examples of joined-up natural resource management and well-being provision. We invite Welsh Government to learn from the past and join us in the campaign to save our outdoor national health service.