English cities could be given national park status under new proposals

Cities in England could be granted national park status – affording urban areas the same level of environmental protection as natural landscapes – as part of a new review of open spaces.

Harry Taylor www.theguardian.com 

The government is considering the proposed status, which would also entail management of the areas to maintain their biodiversity, in response to the Glover review of protected landscapes.

So far, London is England’s only city to have been awarded what is currently an informal designation, but officials are looking at officially granting it to others. It would mean that conservation and other environmental concerns would have to be taken into account when assessing planning applications.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Natural England is taking forward a review of where any new designations might be, including whether there should be new national park cities or similar arrangements to protect nature close to where many people live.”

Natural England is also looking at increasing the number of national parks, with the Telegraph reporting that an upgrade of the Chilterns and the Cotswolds from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to national park status is being discussed.

The impact of HS2 rail works on the landscape of the Chilterns has been the subject of protests in recent years, as under the plans, a 10-mile tunnel is due to cut through the area. It is unclear what impact the designation might have on construction.

If the move goes ahead, it could lead to the biggest increase in parkland in England since the creation of the Peak District, Lake District and Dartmoor national parks in 1951.

Work is currently under way to look at new AONBs in the Yorkshire Wolds and the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. Potential extensions to the existing Chilterns and Surrey Hills areas are also being examined.

The proposals are in response to an independent review led by the journalist Julian Glover on natural landscapes in England. He proposed that all national parks be run by one authority, rather than by separate entities.

Presenting his report in 2019, Glover also called for a greater diversity in national park authority and AONB boards, criticising the existing makeup as having too few black, Asian and minority ethnic members, and too many who are male and of retirement age.

The government expects to consult on draft proposals later this year, after it has formally responded to the Glover review.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Our landscapes are national treasures, and we are committed to ensuring that they flourish as havens for nature and are places that everyone can visit and enjoy.

“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.”