AN AMBITIOUS scheme to join together the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks could founder as the Government fails to commit to increased funding.
Environment Secretary Liz Truss arrived at Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, North Yorkshire, today to announce that the two parks would be expanded to create the largest seamless stretch of protected landscape in England. But she was unable to rule out further cuts to spending this autumn.
A letter seen by the Yorkshire Post from Ms Truss to the government advisory body Natural England, also confirms there are no plans for additional funds in the short-term while the parks are enlarged.
Ms Truss wrote that on the recommendation of the inspector who led a public inquiry into the expansion, the parks are ‘very successful’ in getting other funds, including from charities, and volunteers can be called upon.
Today Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chief executive David Butterworth said increased finance must coincide with the increase in the park, so that existing funds were not “diluted.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron, whose own constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, will be partially absorbed in the new Yorkshire Dales National Park said the Government had missed a golden opportunity to make park authorities more democratic, while general funding reductions could see stinging costs for tourists as the park’s try to make money on parking.
The plans announced by Ms Truss at in Hawes this morning are the culmination of a decades long campaign to redraw the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which was created in 1954.
Sharing similar geological features and some cultural ties, the Cumbrian areas of the Orton Fells, the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang will now be designated national park land.
To the west the park will include Barbon, Middleton, Casterton and Leck Fells, the River Lune, and part of Firbank Fell and other fells to the west of the River Lune.
Ms Truss said: “I wanted to make sure that we got on with this because it’s a fantastic opportunity for the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District and it will make sure that we protect this vital, beautiful landscape for generations to come.”
In July, The Yorkshire Post reported that funding cuts to the organisation which runs the Dales National Park was under pressure from Government funding cuts.
The authority gets 79% of its funding from Government, but has seen a 38 per cent cut to its government grant since 2010, to £4.07m.
Mr Butterworth said: “The Government has told us that it recognises that, but any future funding decisions will not be announced until the Spending Review in November.”
Ms Truss told the Yorkshire Post she was committing to seeing the Yorkshire Dales National Park thriving, with the designated status bringing millions into the park’s economy every year through tourism and enhanced business opportunities.
The landscape will also be afforded better protection and a new nationwide £3bn countryside stewardship scheme is available to give grants to land owners and farmers.
However she said all Government departments are looking at their budgets ahead of the Government’s Spending Review in November.
She said: “This is something that I’m working on with the national park. I’m in discussion about this”
“My objective is to make sure that national parks remain a really important part of our countryside and our environment.
“Obviously like every other Government department we are looking at our budgets at the moment and there will be a final announcement at the Spending Review.”
A letter sent by Ms Truss to Natural England however states that she is ‘fully aware’ that Natural England has previously said that it ‘would not be worth taking additional land into the two national parks without some increase in resources’ and they ‘would expect some increase in funding’ commensurate with the increase in size and administration.
However she wrote that she thought it was appropriate to designate the land and current spending constraints should not affect that decision.
For 50 years, conservationists have been complaining of “unfinished business” around the borders of the parks.
To the north, the Dales National Park will be extended to include parts of the Orton Fells, the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang.
To the west it will include Barbon, Middleton, Casterton and Leck Fells, the River Lune, and part of Firbank Fell and other fells to the west of the River Lune.
The extension areas will come into effect in August 2016.
In total, an additional 188 square miles of land across Cumbria and a small part of Lancashire will now be protected. In the east of the Lake District, it will include an area from Birkbeck Fells Common to Whinfell Common; and to the south, an area from Helsington Barrows to Sizergh Fell, an area north of Sizergh Castle and part of the Lyth valley.
Around six years ago, Natural England carried out large local consultation with businesses and landowners, and carried out detailed examination of the landscape. Plans were drawn up for the expansion, and after five local authorities - Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire County Councils and Eden and Richmondshire District Councils - raised objections, a public inquiry began in 2013.
The CLA in the North said the decision to extend has ignored the views of many farmers and landowners in the region.
CLA North Regional Director Dorothy Fairburn said: “We share the ambitions of boosting rural growth and caring for our landscapes, but we are clear that the flexibility for change – which is critical for a modern, working countryside – should not be stifled.
“We are disappointed that the Public Inquiry and the Secretary of State appear to have ignored the views of many of our members who own and manage over 100,000 acres of land affected by this decision, and who also run many rurally-based businesses, some of which are involved in the visitor economy.
“Our members take their stewardship of the land seriously and responsibly, demonstrating high quality conservation and public benefits that run hand in hand with their commercial farming and forestry management.
“Draconian planning rules and other regulations in national parks can stifle rural enterprise, ultimately at the expense of people who derive their living from the land, and this is very worrying.
“This area is largely a manmade landscape and we call on the park authorities to now work in partnership with rural businesses to help them prosper and benefit, rather than suffer from the new designation.”
The announcement builds on the Secretary of State’s speech last week setting out her vision for a 25 year Environment Plan, and is the first step in delivering this government’s manifesto commitment of stronger protections for natural landscapes to ensure Britain has the best natural environment anywhere.
Mark Corner, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society, said: “We are delighted to finally see Mallerstang and the Northern Howgills, the hills adjoining the Lune Valley and the Orton Fells receive the recognition, protection and enhancement which National Park designation will bring.
“The Society will play its part in encouraging people to value and enjoy this majestic part of our country.”