Does Boles Want to Relax Controls in National Parks – But this requires a change in the Law
Nick Boles indicated that he was considering relaxing strict protections for the country’s most beautiful countryside to help developers.
The comments appear to suggest the Coalition wants to allow more development in national parks. Similar plans were quietly shelved last year.
Answering a debate in Parliament on planning rules and the use of housing subsidies in national parks, Mr Boles said he wanted to encourage development there to stop communities becoming “embalmed”.
He said he was worried about “the danger of making rural communities into museum pieces where they are not so much protected as embalmed.
“I think this applies certainly to many communities within national parks. These communities will only retain their appeal and retain life if they are allowed to change and to develop.
Mr Boles lamented that localism – which gives responsibility for deciding where new homes are built to communities – was “perhaps not as fully expressed in national parks as it might be and perhaps we should do to help national parks reflect that policy of localism more fully.”
He said he wanted to have a debate about “the balance between growth, development, economic and social development and protection of the landscape and whether current legislation properly captures what we are trying to achieve and what communities in national parks want to see”.
Mr Boles said he wanted to ensure that national parks were “still the most proud jewels in the crown of the English and Welsh landscape but also living communities that grow and develop and thrive”.
Emma Marrington, Rural Policy Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “National Parks are the jewels of English countryside. Many of the misconceptions being pedalled in the debate – and there were quite a few – were not based on the evidence.
“They were an assault on the essence of what makes our National Parks special. Ministers can be assured that CPRE will continue to fight to ensure that the these precious landscapes remain beautiful and thriving for future generations to enjoy.”
Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, added: “David Cameron was forced to drop plans for a duty on National Parks to promote ‘sustainable development’ two years ago in the face of huge public outrage.
“Now the media spotlight has faded it looks like they are trying to sneak it through again.”
England has 10 National Parks – most protected under law dating back to the early 1950s – covering nearly 5,000 square miles of the most beautiful countryside in the world, including Exmoor, the Peak District, Dartmoor and the Lake District.
Each park is run by its own National Park Authority, which has two statutory duties – to conserve the countryside and its wildlife, and to allow people to enjoy it.
Ministers were planning to consult on a third duty – “whether the legislation for National Parks Authorities needs to better reflect their role in facilitating sustainable development”, but the proposals were dropped in June last year.
The NPPF no longer mentions it but planning in national parks is still governed by the the statutory duty under the Environment Act 1995, which local planning authorities and decision makers should comply with, are to:
■conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
■promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the public.
When National Parks and the Broads Authority carry out these purposes they also have the duty to seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities within their areas.
If it appears that there is a conflict between those purposes the decision maker shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area comprised in the National Park.
So any change to this, on the loines of the Scottish system which does not have an overidding protection test, would require a change in the law, as would governance arrangements which were in any event reviewed last year. These are of course DEFRA not DCLG responsibilities. Boles has about as much responsibility for these matters as he does over windframs,