Restrictions on building in some of the most beautiful parts of the country could be relaxed under new Government plans, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Last night, Labour said Government’s plans to introduce give national parks authorities a new duty of “sustainable development” to could give developers a “licence to build” on some of the most pristine and stunning parts of England.
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, the New Forest 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.
Now ministers want to add a third duty – to “facilitate sustainable development” which campaigners say could require the parks’ authorities to allow more building.
Pressure is growing on parks authorities to find other sources of income after their funding was cut in last year’s spending review, leading to concerns that many could encourage more development to bring in extra income.
According to a business plan published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ministers will “consult on whether the legislation for National Parks Authorities needs to better reflect their role in facilitating sustainable development”.
The consultation about the changes to the National Parks guidance is due to be launched next month and run to March 2012.
It was first recommended by the Government’s rural communities’ advisers in June last year which recommended that it may be “appropriate to change the legislation to reflect the importance of sustainable development” in the Parks’ core duties.
The advisers said that by giving National Parks this third purpose it would mean that they are “expected to deliver socio-economic benefits when pursuing their purposes”.
Labour said there were fears that this change could “open the flood gates to more development in our national parks” and showed how ministers were “hopelessly out of touch with people who care about our National Parks”.
Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment secretary, said: “This latest consultation, imposing a duty on the Parks to promote the now infamous and ill-defined ‘sustainable development’, could lead to a licence to build on our National Parks.”
Emma Marrington, a spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, added: “It’s almost beyond belief that they could consider giving National Parks a statutory purpose for sustainable development – these are the jewels in the crown of the English countryside.”
There are currently 55 pages of planning guidance to protect National Parks.
These are being replaced with a single paragraph in the controversial new draft National Planning Policy Framework, which has been criticised by campaigners for biasing planning rules in favour of builders.
The NPPF suggests planners should “give great weight to protecting landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“The conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations in all these areas, and should be given great weight in National Parks and the Broads.”
Last night a Defra spokesman said: “This consultation is not about changing the protection that National Parks have in the planning system. National Parks are England’s crown jewels and will remain that way.”
She added that the Government did “not think that there is a problem with how National Parks currently deliver sustainable development”, however it had agreed “to seek public views through consultation”.
Note: English National Parks have the duty to ‘Seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities within the National Parks’, but in the event of a conflict between that and the primary duties – including conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, the primary duty has precedence. The government proposal seems to want to introduce a test similar to the scottish national parks, here there are two additional tests – To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area & To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities, and their is no hierarchy between the tests. What the government has done with the sloppy incompetent wording of the draft NPPF is that sustainable development has been given such a bad name that the moment it is mentioned people see visions of bulldozers. Quite clearly they have achieved the unthinkable – to give sustainable development a bad name, which perhaps was the intention all along