That’s a battle we didn’t win in the 1940s and 50s, and we are unlikely to win today, not least because there is a growing realisation at both government and grassroots level that a one-size fits all approach might not actually work for this most diverse and unique of regions.
The fact that the South Pennines was overlooked when the National Parks were first established 70 years ago is ancient history. What we need – and with the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergency it’s an urgent need – is action.
That’s why we are intent on turning this rejection into an opportunity for the people of the South Pennines, because it’s they who will be the beneficiaries of a new blueprint for how a different kind of park can run.
It’s an innovative way of restoring our natural environment and supporting our regional economy – one that is fitting for one of the UK’s most diverse and unique places.
Some facts here might help. Covering around 460 square miles the South Pennines is situated between the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, East Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire.
It’s England’s largest non-statutory upland landscape that is not designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or National Park. It has a population of 660,000 – more than twice as many as all the other National Parks in England put together!
It’s highly accessible too, with over eight million people within 30 minutes. The Park has 53 railway stations and four motorways run through it.
It’s quirky and creative – home to the Brontës, David Hockney, Simon Armitage and our very own ambassadors Angela Smyth, O’Hooley and Tidow and Sally Wainwright. It’s shaped by our industrial and farming heritage. And it’s stunning.
In short, it is different, a trailblazer – in scale, history, accessibility and in the inclusivity and diversity of people and landscape.
We want a renewable designation that is not bound by legislation. One that sits alongside, augments and complements these protected landscapes.
A renewable model that is flexible; one that can meet the challenges we are facing.
And for the South Pennines Park to thrive and meet the challenges of climate change we need a way of managing the landscape that is agile and adaptable.
That’s why we have developed with the councils, the private and third sectors and key landowners an alternative approach to the governance and management of the landscape.
It’s an approach that puts our communities, people who live, work and enjoy these special places, together with nature at their heart.
Our mission is clear: to look after nature and each other and our alternative to National Park designation is a renewable accreditation; a 15-year Partnership Plan, with three five-year action plans for delivery.
It’s a framework that has been shaped by the European Landscape Convention, whereby all landscapes have a value.
It will establish the vision, the strategic overview and key objectives for the South Pennines Park and will be put together by our members, stakeholders, partners, communities and people with an interest in the South Pennines Park.
This way will support the health and wellbeing of the landscape, biodiversity and people, while growing local jobs, providing opportunities and boosting prosperity.
Of course, it’s new – this is a first of its kind in the UK – and some people won’t like it because it’s never been done before.
But we are happy to be trailblazers – it’s very South Pennines. We want to be a testbed for doing things differently and, ultimately, a model to inspire and guide other spaces and communities similar to ours.
We are unapologetic about the scale of this mission, and we’re excited to share it.
We’ve always been blessed with original thinkers in this part of the world. We’ve a stubborn streak too – we preserve despite the knock backs.
That doesn’t simply equate to continually banging a drum for a traditional designation. It means asking for what the South Pennines has always deserved – recognition, respect and resources.
Helen Noble is chief executive of South Pennines Park.
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