CLA Head of Planning Fenella Collins explores the potential implications of the Glover Review for CLA members
Hired by Michael Gove to review National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in England, Julian Glover’s independent report was published last Saturday (21 September).
The report’s central argument is that England is losing its natural beauty and conservation needs to be at the core of our 10 National Parks and 34 AONBs, brought together as “national landscapes”.
However, CLA members will be rightly concerned over the proposals around access and changes to the system of National Parks and AONB designation, which bring with them more stringent planning rules. On the positive side, they will also be interested in how farming and land management will be expected to play a role.
Glover envisages a National Landscapes Service (NLS), dealing with boundary changes and, presumably, handling new designations. The implication is that the NLS would take over from Natural England, the body currently responsible for these activities. Also proposed is a US-style National Ranger Service, working across the 44 national landscapes.
Role of farming and land management
The role of farming and its importance is acknowledged, as are potential tensions between farming and landscape. Farmers and natural environment communities must work together with common ambitions, says the Review. There is also recognition of the wider role of land management, especially in upland areas and the report proposes that national landscapes should have a central place in the new ELMS system.
New National Parks
The Review was asked to consider whether there should be new designation and the current process. The panel believes there is a case for several larger AONBs – Chilterns, Cotswolds and combined Dorset and East Devon – to be granted National Park status. Other areas put forward for such status are: Forest of Dean, Sandstone Ridge, Churnet Valley, Vale of Belvoir. Furthermore, Sherwood Forest could get a new status as the ‘National Forest’.
The Review calls the current designations process “over technical, legalistic, under-resourced and defensive” however, it does not believe it is fundamentally flawed (Some CLA members will disagree). It suggests better and swifter consultation with more input from local groups earlier in the process and that the new NLS should take over the process. It is unclear how these changes would be funded.
Changes to access
Whilst not a core part of their review, the panel think there is a case for looking at whether further access rights should be established, or at the very least considered or trialled, in England’s national landscapes. However, they concede, any look at open access needs a much more in depth investigation.
Alterations to planning rules
No changes are proposed to National Parks, their roles or responsibilities but the report suggests changing AONBs’ powers to make them statutory consultees for planning applications and together with local authorities, responsible for producing local plans. For larger AONBs, these plans should have statutory status.
Furthermore, Glover highlights that some of the biggest impacts on national landscapes stem from government decisions. His report suggests enhanced government guidance to support the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which the government sidelines when driving through national infrastructure projects.
The review envisages smaller National Park and AONB boards, with chairs appointed by the Secretary of State and members by the NLS. Boards would be advised by a partnership group to ensure they are “well-informed by a wide range of interests and specialist expertise”.
The report argues that board members should be “selected for their passion, skills and experience including biodiversity, natural beauty, culture, leisure, education and community” and ensure efforts are made to broaden membership to be better representative of wider society.
Delivering for society
The report suggests that the existing duty of NPs to foster the socio-economic well-being of communities should become a third statutory purpose. It also recommends creating a National Landscapes Rural Housing Association which would work across all 44 areas to deliver necessary social housing for rent.
As highlighted by some of the mainstream media coverage, Glover argues that more work needs doing to encourage ethnic minorities to visit national landscapes and school children should “spend a night under the stars”.
What all this means for CLA members…
The review makes recommendations to government, who are under no obligation to implement them. They rely on funding that is not currently available. The review is a starting point for ongoing discussion with Defra around some of the key issues CLA members face, notably around new designated areas, planning rules and access.
We will continue to ensure the views of CLA members are heard loud and clearly by decision-makers and that recommendations that could lead to improvements are taken forward. A lot more detailed work needs to happen if these ideas are to become official policy, including a full analysis of all the consequences for a range of rural stakeholders who have a direct interest.