Plans to shake-up the way the national parks of the Westcountry are run, scrapping the national park authorities for Exmoor and Dartmoor and handing control to a national body in London are being considered by ministers.
Philip Bowern www.devonlive.com
As part of a wholesale change across England, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is proposing to bring all of the statutory functions and responsibilities of England’s protected landscapes together into a single organisational structure.
That would leave the 10 national parks in England, including Dartmoor and Exmoor, and the nation’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (AONB) without local management or input, critics of the plan fear.
BBC Countryfile’s reporter Tom Heap says he has seen documents which suggest the Government want to merge England’s AONBs and national parks under a single National Landscape Service – cutting at a stroke the local input that currently comes from councillors and other members of the national park authorities.
The plan follows a review, by Julian Glover, carried out 18 months ago. He suggested a better coordinated management of England’s places of natural beauty was needed. But critics fear a one-sized fits all approach to landscapes as diverse as the Lake District, the South Downs and Dartmoor, for example, would be counterproductive, with powers transferred away from grassroots communities to Westminster.
Mr Glover has denied he envisaged scrapping local management of the parks. His plan for a National Landscape Service was one of around 25 recommendations made in his report. He told the BBC. “This isn’t about everything being run central. This is about common goals, done locally.”
At the moment the national parks of the Westcountry, like those across the country, are managed by a small team of professionals, led on Dartmoor by chief executive Kevin Bishop and on Exmoor by Sarah Bryan. They are answerable to a committee, made up of local people including councillors and other representatives, who set policy, decide on planning applications and help to manage the parks in line with the needs of those who live and work on them, as well as those who come to visit.
Opposition to the plan is building across the country. Richard Leafe, chief executive of the Lake District national park, told Countryfile: “I think the power really does need to be focused locally because this is where we need to go to work. We are from here, our families all live and work around here, we know the people of the Lake District very well.”
Those same arguments are being made on Exmoor and Dartmoor.
Kevin Bishop, chief executive of Dartmoor National Park Authority, told the WMN: “We still await a formal Government response to the Landscapes Review but if the BBC Countryfile story of ministers being minded to merge the 10 National Park Authorities and 34 AONBs into a single organisation is correct, then is it deeply concerning.
“For 70 years the management of Dartmoor National Park has involved the local community and other stakeholders. Establishing a central quango is a potential reform in the wrong direction: it would reduce or remove local accountability; remove a powerful champion for Dartmoor and its communities; weaken the local partnership working that is essential to almost everything we do; hamper our ability to respond quickly to meet Dartmoor’s needs; and reduce the resources available for Dartmoor National Park.”
He said the national park authorities were not against reform and there was merit in a National Landscapes Service as a “small but powerful advocate, at the heart of Government, for our most treasured landscapes.”
He suggested a ‘Landscapes Commissioner’ akin to the Children’s Commissioner could be a possible solution.
He went on: “Many of the report’s other recommendations are of more practical value than organisational change and would go further in helping us ensure that Dartmoor is even better for people and nature.”
Defra said: “The Landscapes Review set out a compelling vision for more beautiful, more biodiverse and more accessible National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“We welcome this ambition, and we have been actively engaging with stakeholders to inform our response to the Review, which we intend to publish in due course.”