Uncertain future for national parks facing fresh grant cuts

Jim Bailey, chairman of North York Moors National Park Authority.
Jim Bailey, chairman of North York Moors National Park Authority.
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THE GUARDIANS of the country’s most precious landscapes are appealing to the government to plan its next spending cuts carefully, as any repeat of recent budget reductions could leave some National Parks “unviable”.

North York Moors National Park Authority chairman Jim Bailey said he fears the worst if England’s ten National Parks are hit with more grant cuts of up to 40 per cent which have already seen them shed staff and slash services over the last five years.

His warning comes ahead of next week’s Budget and his concerns were echoed by the Campaign for National Parks which said the cuts faced by national parks since 2010 were “damaging some of the country’s most special places”.

Government funding for the national parks has fallen from £56 million in 2010 to £44.7m this financial year, the Campaign said, resulting in 227 job losses, tourist centres closing, reductions in public footpaths maintenance, and the ending of projects which aided rural businesses, conservation and dealt with climate change and flooding.

Mr Bailey, who is also chairman of National Parks England, which promotes the work of England’s National Park authorities, has overseen the North York Moors National Park Authority as its government grant has dwindled by 35 per cent since 2010, to £3.7m. Another five per cent of its budget has been lost in grants from local authorities and other sources.

Thirty-eight full-time staff have left the authority since 2010 and funding has ceased for the Moorsbus Network, flood prevention, managing public rights of way and climate change work, while less is being spent on biodiversity and historic environment work.

Mr Bailey said: “We know it is not just the National Parks that are under pressure but looking forward we can’t keep cutting slices off something that is so small in national budgetary terms - some are in danger of becoming unviable. What we need is a different strategy.”

Fiona Howie, Campaign for National Parks chief executive, said: “We are calling on the Westminster Government to effectively resource National Parks, while also enabling them to take innovative approaches to access new or existing funding streams. National Parks are national assets that provide environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits. They are valued by communities and tourists and they need to be properly valued and supported.”

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has seen a 38 per cent cut to its government grant since 2010, to £4.07m. Thirty-one jobs have been cut and rights of way, conservation and built environment funding has suffered, among other areas. It has also seen cuts to other grants and a reduction in bank interest on working capital totalling £596,000.

Its chief executive David Butterworth said: “We believe there will be further cuts in the near future that would put our services under even more pressure.

“We are doing all we can to find alternative funding sources to keep services going.”

To help ease the financial pain in the long term, National Park authorities are working with their Welsh and Scottish counterparts to create a new company devoted to identifying commercial opportunities following a similar successful initiative in the United States.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs defended its position saying it had minimised the impact of budget cuts on National Parks and that it has provided £260m to national park authorities since 2010.