Im the worlds biggest fan of national parks, I love London, but there has never been such a dumb planning idea as to declare London a ‘National Park City’, it devalues London and devalues National Parks. In such a context it would be hard to defend inappropriate development harming London’s Greenery because all of the most urban area in the UK would be blanket protected by the highest and most important designation designed to protect the most precious rural areas. You might as well declare the whole of London a conservation area, every building in Ilford a Grade I listed building, the top of Highgate Hill a flood risk area and Ruislip woods an air quality management area. It is simply the wrong tool for the wrong job and makes a nonsense of important planning designations being based on evidence, study and the law rather than marketing, meaningless hype and worthy emotive platitudes replacing than tough choices that really make a difference.
Sajid Javid has done just that in backing the heart in the right place but head long missing campaign to make London a National Park City.
Sadiq Khan has thrown his weight behind plans for London to become the world’s first urban national park.
The Mayor’s backing came as he launched his draft environment strategy at Woodberry Wetlands in Hackney today.
He announced a package of measures to help “make London the greenest city in the world”.
It includes new planning regulations to give further protection to green open space and incorporate “green roofs” into new developments.
Mr Khan said: “London is home to outstanding green spaces that I want to protect, invest in and improve.”
Campaigner Daniel Raven Ellison, who first promoted the idea of London becoming a national park, said: “Making London a National Park City is an opportunity to improve the health of all Londoners.”
There is little in the Mayors Environment Strategy to disagree with, though his specific measures on protecting green space deserve careful analysis in another article, one can cheer on his plans to ‘ has plans to make 50% of the city green so that Londoners can enjoy the natural environment and make more of our outdoor spaces.’ but that is about parks and Green space for London not a ‘National Park’ which must and should fulfill a wholly different purpose. But latching on to this silly campaign adds nothing and devalues the rest.
Where am I coming from?
What is a National Park? What makes them Special? What makes it necessary to defend this particularities of this specialness. The History.
Contrary to popular opinion the concept was not down to John Muir, that great scot, founder of the Sierra Club, who petitioned the US congress to pass the National Park Bill 1890 to establish Yosemiti National Park, but the artist George Catlin who in 1832 wished
“by some great protecting policy of government… in a magnificent park… a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild[ness] and freshness of their nature’s beauty!”
In 1864 Lincoln put the Yosemeti Valley in public trust so that.
‘They would “be held for public use, resort, and recreation…inalienable for all time.’
Five years before the worlds first titled National Park – Yellowstone – was even discovered by white Americans.
From there the idea spread around the world. The problem was Britain has few true ‘wilderness’ areas from from agriculture and accessible solely for recreation. As ever British pragmatism needed to adapt the concept. It started with campaigns which brgan in the late 19th century for freedom to roam.
A 1931 government inquiry recommends the creation of a ‘national park authority’ to select areas for designation as national parks. However, no action is taken and public discontent over access to the countryside grew, leading to the famous 1932 mass trespasses on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Five men are imprisoned.
The CPRE founded by the famous planner Patrick Abercrombie and others, together with the Ramblers Association, founded the standing Committee on National Parks in 1931 to lobby the government.
Abercrombie helped pioneer many important Planning Concepts, Green Belt, New Towns, National Parks and AONBs, and in the County of London Plan he wrote proposed the first ‘Green infrastructure’ networks for London. Yet he did not propose London as a National Park, the very idea would have made him lose his monocle in shock. He always proposed clearly the right planning tool for the right planning job, which why his concepts have stood the test of time, they were free of muddle and had a wonderful clarity of purpose toutching the heart, but razor sharp in what they were for and what part in the great planning jigsaw they played. Lest he turn in his grave lets not muddle things up again.
The film is interesting, the Council for National Parks in the 1930s did a lot of work on where they should be – note the Pennines, and Cambrian Mountains as well as ones that later were declared such as Dartmoor and the Peak District. The sharp divide between the grime of London and the ‘Great openeess’ of London seems quaintly post Victorian, but they had a point, London is manmade and urban, National Parks and open, though with the artifice this is ‘nature’ (no area is more manmade than Wesleydale).
Section 99 of the NERC Act clarifies that landscapes that are partly the product of human intervention can still have natural beauty and may be included in designations. This principle is very significant in the context of English landscapes.
In 1945 as art of the Labour Party’s planned post-war reconstruction, and planning reform, it published the White Paper on National Parks and sets up a committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse to prepare for national park legislation. Its famous map followed the earlier work of the Council for National Parks, but divided into National Parks and areas later to become Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. Some areas like the Herefordshire Uplands still haven’t been declared for silly reasons such as politics over the marches national border, or the post war desire for afforestation and depopulation for army training in the Brecklands.
Section 5(2) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 defines a National Park as an extensive tract of country in England which it appears to Natural England that, by reason of its:
natural beauty and the opportunities it affords for open-air recreation, having regard to both its character and its position in relation to centres of population, it is especially desirable that it is designated for National Park purposes.
The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 defined their purposes as:
The purposes of designation for National Parks are to:
Promote public understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities.
These principles are well tested in law and inquiry most recently at the thee inquiries for the Broads, the New Forest and the South Downs.
This is how Javid wants to define and that would have to persuade the house of commons before he submits his new London Plan to define them.
Section 5(2) of the
National Parks and Access to the Countryside ActNational Parks and Access to Anywhere Act 19492018 defines a National Park as an extensive tract of countryanything and everything in England which it appears to Natural EnglandThe Mayor of London that, by reason of its:
natural beautybeing within the M25 (and that sticky out northern bit of Enfield outside it) and the opportunities it affords for open-air recreationand being vaguely green in any form whatsoever, having regard to both its character and its position in relation to centres of population, its having a population of over 8,78 million, it is especially desirable that it is designated for National Park City purposes.
This is the table used by Natural England for designation.
Javid would have to redefine the No, NO to a YES, YES, which by definition make anywhere and everywhere a National Park, its a nonsense, the government wont stand for it, the EIP panel for the London Plan are likely to be coruscating in light of the precedents set by previous examinations and above all it is a giant disractationary waste of everyone’s time and money.
Javid, you are a lawyer so how would you refine what is known as the ‘Dower Tests’ to make London a National Park City and not everywhere else, without the arbitary use of an administrative line which has nothing to do with beauty. Answers on a postcard please.
Yes promote and ehance London’s Greenness, Yes promote a wide network of green and open spaces across London, yes make it visionary, but please dont use the term National poark, use your wit to develop your own. If the definition is arbitrary they can be arbitrarly defined and dedesignated and political whim, if a ministers wants to drive a motorway through for example, without fear of any JR.
The National Park Authority makes great effort to preserve the natural habitat of cockney tribes, using controlled fires to manage the landscape
There is not a single logical argument for using the specific term ‘National Park’ on the campaigners website, other than being an ‘urban’ national park this would be way cool and new, even though great greening cities such as Barcelona, Curtiba and Vancouver have achieved all of the aims of the campaigners without the designation. At the end of the day the only argument is that it is great for marketing, a bad argument for doing anything and is any event counterproductive. If a foreign tourist comes to London and asks to see where the National Park begins and is sent to Fairlop Plain they aint ever going to come again.
The idea is very much a selfish Londista one and actively harmful to rural areas, on a par with driving on Narrow Devon roads in Chelsea Tractors knocking cyclists flying, on the way to a cottage used for two weeks a year, whilst complaining about the lack of good Sushi in Crediton.
If Javid wants to Declare London a National Park put up a giant Millstone in front of City Hall as a symbol of his legacy to planning in London.