‘Protection’ of designated landscapes being undermined
A Welsh Government report by the Future Landscapes Working Group on the future of designated landscapes in Wales undermines the status of National Parks as Protected Landscapes. The draft Future Landscape Wales report fails to mention a basic principle of conservation that would be an ultimate safeguard for natural beauty and biodiversity and potentially opens the door to unfettered development within National Parks and AONBs.
The Snowdonia Society is urging Welsh Government to reconfirm their commitment to the Sandford Principle and plan a proper future for protected landscapes in Wales, with appropriate protection and management.
!!STOP PRESS!! URGENT ACTION REQUIREDAct before 6 June to protect the family of National Parks
Why it matters
National Parks are a much-loved institution and part of a determined push to plan for the long-term, and build a healthier world with opportunities for all; in many respects they are our ‘outdoor NHS’.
National Parks are driven by a simple idea: when something is of great value to present and future generations it has to be protected robustly and consistently. National Parks have been reviewed a number of times and have withstood the test, their purposes little changed since they were established under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
This comes in the context of Welsh Government’s wish to put more emphasis on socio-economic development within these landscapes. Without the Sandford Principle, the designation of ‘National Park’ in Wales could become a badge of prestige while offering no protection.
The report of the Future Landscapes Working Group (FLW) follows on from the Marsden Report, which reviewed Wales’ designated landscapes in 2015 (see our National Parks Matter campaign). The Marsden Report was a comprehensive document with detailed recommendations. Welsh Government has chosen a different direction and commissioned a second report by a new panel, the Future Landscape Wales Working Group. This panel’s draft report omits any mention of the Sandford Principle an important basic principle that prioritises conservation interests over other purposes.
National Parks model under threat
The power to legislate is not a reason to legislate, a point we would make to the chair of the Future Landscapes Wales group. Following appointment as FLW chair Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas wrote “This is the first time ever that we are able to define our own landscape for ourselves, so we don’t have to fit into the England and Wales model of National Parks and AONBs.” We would like to see any evidence that the National Park model does not work for Wales. Perhaps Lord Elis-Thomas’ point is more political than practical, but we should all be wary of projecting our assumptions onto others. Many people are attached to the iconic landscapes directly through their own experiences and are attached to the National Park model simply because it has delivered protection for the landscapes they love. In such a world-view the political and historical origins of the National Park system are irrelevant – what matters is that they do what it says on the tin.
Designated landscapes to become “regional development bodies”?
The current draft of the ‘Future Landscapes’ report contains a mixture of ideas without resolving them into a coherent account. It places much emphasis on the need to innovate, but rather less on the value of what already exists. Of real concern are sentences such as: “...the designated landscapes and associated bodies should retain their identity and legal status while evolving into regional development bodies...“. We must hope that this is not the essence of the Future Landscapes Wales proposition – that National Parks and AONBs should become ‘regional development bodies‘.
Basic principle of conservation missing from the report
Of greatest concern are the omissions from the FLW report. Future Landscapes Wales was meant to build on the work of the Marsden Report on the Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales. Professor Marsden and his panel consulted widely, assembled evidence and produced a detailed report of 250 pages and nearly 70 specific recommendations. Marsden concluded, amongst a wide range of proposals, that further integration of socio-economic objectives is possible in the National Park and AONB purposes, but that such change must be governed by an overarching conservation principle, like the Sandford Principle currently in place, to ensure that the special qualities of these special places are ultimately protected.
The Sandford Principle states that where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and the other purposes and duties of the National Park, then conservation interest should take priority. The Future Landscapes Wales draft report makes no mention whatever of a protection mechanism or Sandford-type principle for natural beauty, landscape, and wildlife. Some organisations involved in the FLW process have been unable to support the report because conservation is so conspicuously lacking from its vision.
National Park Authorities’ planning powers at risk
Welsh Government has created the capacity under the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 to remove planning powers from National Park Authorities. If Welsh Government were to activate that clause and were to press ahead with new purposes without a Sandford-type principle, it would signify the end of National Parks as we know them in Wales. Welsh Government will need to ensure it consults widely and acts wisely if it is to avoid:
- a ‘race to the bottom’ to open up National Parks and AONBs to unfettered development
- breaking up of the family of National Parks which generations have enjoyed across our nations
- the relegation of National Parks in Wales to a lower division of Protected Landscapes internationally.
22/5/17: Future Landscapes Wales debate in the Welsh Assemby set for 6 June
9/5/17: Report of the Future Landscapes Wales programme published today.
‘Conservation’ is the C-word spectacularly missing from the Future Landscapes document. As are the following key words in National Parks’ existing purposes – ‘natural beauty’, ‘conservation’, ‘wildlife’, ‘cultural heritage’ ‘enjoyment’ ‘access’, ‘recreation’. Read our full post.
28/3/17: Debate postponed following complaints by AMs that they had not had a chance to read the FLW report.
27/3/17: Wales Government arranged plenary debate on ‘Review of National Parks and AONBs’ at short notice
Snowdonia Society actions:
24/5/17: Media, web and Facebook campaign to draw attention to the new date for the debate and urge all to make sure their AM knows the value of the National Parks to them.
27/3/17: In response to the FLW debate being arranged at short notice, we sent out a message to our members and friends asking them to urge their AM to attend the debate, highlighting the omissions and failings in the FLW report. The large number of people who acted influenced the decision to postpone the debate
27/3/17: circulated a Response to the Future Landscapes Wales report, produced by the Alliance for National Parks Cymru, of which The Snowdonia Society is a member.
28/3/17: achieved wide coverage of the issue on radio and television and the BBC website.
Snowdonia Society will repeat its offer to contribute directly to planning a proper future for protected landscapes in Wales, a future in which their value to all of us is recognised by the strength of their protection and the quality of their management.
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Resources & LinksFuture Landscapes Wales, draft report
Response to Future Landscapes Wales report from Alliance for National Parks CymruTerms of Reference (PDF 195.4KB) for the Future Landscapes Working Group The Marsden Report, A Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales, pb 2015
National Parks Matter campaign