National parks plan 'could do more harm than good' say Yorkshire officers

North York Moors National Park officers have given an acerbic response to a plan which calls for the biggest shake-up of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) since they were founded.

A view across towards Roseberry Topping from Newton Moor in North Yorkshire. Image: Ian Day
A view across towards Roseberry Topping from Newton Moor in North Yorkshire. Image: Ian Day

A major review, published in September, called for action to reignite the founding spirit of the country’s protected landscapes.

The Protected Landscape review was led by author Julian Glover who said it was a “big, bold plan” to tackle a crisis in natural environments.

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Recommendations include new powers, more funding, and a national mission to reverse decades of decline.

But a North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) report reveals there are major concerns in the authority over the reality of proposals.

“In some sections of the report we feel concerned that changes proposed could do more harm than good,” the response states.

And in conclusion, the Moors Park officers, headed by chief executive Andy Wilson, added: “It’s important ambitions are not matched by a realistic view of the required resources, powers, policies and support.

“Indeed, it is notable that several of the main areas where the report urges more action are areas which were reduced in scale following austerity.”

Protected Landscape Review

The Protected Landscape review, to be considered by the Government, calls for a new national service to act as a unified body for England’s 44 national parks and AONBs.

Other measures would see a national housing association to build affordable homes, and a 1,000-strong ranger service to be the “friendly face” of National Parks. The draft response from

NYMNPA officers will be considered at a meeting on Monday next week.

With a new national housing association to build affordable homes, officers say, it is not clear how this could make a difference when many such operations are already under way.

While the initial report acknowledges a challenge over a high number of holiday and second homes, it fails to suggest a “meaningful solution”, the draft response adds.

And while officers welcome a new approach to public transport, it does note that it once funded a full bus service which had to be withdrawn after grant cuts under austerity.

There is “particular admiration” for proposals to ensure every child should get the chance to spend a night under the stars.

Such measures, alongside greater powers to protect wildlife and improve access, must be championed further, officers say, with potential to become a part of the national curriculum.

Funding 'unrealistic'

But funding suggestions, such as a move away from a reliance on government grants, “don’t come anywhere near what is needed” to see a step change in delivery, the draft states.

“In terms of hard tacks, the report is unrealistic about the level of activity that can be generated from the resources currently available to national park authorities.

"We estimate that five to 10 times the current resource would be needed to deliver the level and range of activity described.”

The North York Moors uses a £4.3m government grant to create a resource of over £13m. Officers said: “We are puzzled by what the report means on ‘over-reliance’.

"And we wonder what new flows of resources are likely to be bigger and more sustainable than those we have already tapped.”

Proposals to bring all 44 National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty under one national body, would be “unnecessary, potentially expensive and impractical”, the NYMNPA’s draft response says.

Instead it suggests a non-statutory body would give a presence at government level while ensuring independence.

“Proposals to translate the excellent ambitions into action are often unworkable,” the draft concludes, critiquing suggestions for land management, planning, and leadership.

“Between them, these have the capacity to significantly undermine the work of this authority.”