Comment: National parks expansion pitfalls must be confronted head on

Pic: John Giles/PA Wire
Pic: John Giles/PA Wire
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HUNDREDS OF farmers and rural businesses on the border between Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire now know that from next August they will live and work in a national park.

Last week, during a visit to Hawes, Environment Secretary Liz Truss confirmed the Government would extend the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks.

Under the plans, the two national parks will be expanded to create the largest seamless stretch of protected landscape in England. Much was made of the economic boost the areas will get from the new designation – particularly for tourism related businesses. There’s no doubt that farmers and landowners have benefited from diversification involving tourism. They are the entrepreneurs who provide shopping, food, accommodation and other leisure activities that attract visitors into this beautiful region.

And while we hope that new opportunities will be found in the park extension areas, the CLA’s concerned that the views of many local farmers and landowners have been ignored. We share the ambitions of boosting rural growth and caring for our landscapes, but we are clear that the flexibility for change – critical for a modern, working countryside – shouldn’t be stifled. Draconian planning rules and regulations in national parks can inhibit rural enterprise.

The CLA lobbied hard to introduce new permitted development rights for farmers, which effectively allow them to convert redundant agricultural buildings in to much needed workspaces or new homes without going through the full planning process. These rights don’t apply within the national parks and so farmers and land mangers now included in the designation face a much more costly and time consuming process if they embark on a diversification project. At a time when farmers are pushed to the edge by plummeting commodity prices, a new income stream can be the difference between going bust and survival.

It’s heartening that the national parks are listening to our concerns. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is introducing a new policy to allow residential conversion of some roadside barns, but we need to ensure these policies translate into a constructive working relationship. It’s worth remembering that the area in question is largely a man-made landscape and will continue to be managed by farmers and other landowners long into the future. CLA members take the stewardship of their land seriously, demonstrating high quality conservation and public benefits that run hand-in-hand with farming and forestry management. They need an environment in which they can work well with planning officers to offer goods and services that benefit the region.

The revelation that the park authorities will receive no additional money to look after this expanded area is a major concern. We fully support the parks in their call for increased finance so that existing funds aren’t diluted but as the Government pushes ahead with its austerity programme there’s little chance of extra funds being released in the near future. The Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks have an urgent job to do to show they’re willing and able to work together with local farmers and landowners, and to show that they have clear plans for how they will deliver on all the opportunities that have been promised.

Dorothy Fairburn is CLA regional director for the North.