Short-term economic priorities are overriding long-established protections and allowing inappropriate development in England’s National Parks, says a new report, published today by Campaign for National Parks, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust.
The new report is based on research commissioned by the three organisations and conducted by Sheffield Hallam University. The research looked at the national policy to restrict ‘major development’ in National Parks, which has protected these iconic areas since they were created in the 1940s.
The research found that interpretations of ‘major development’ vary between the National Parks, and decisions to approve planning applications often reflect the Government ‘mood’ at the time, with policy changes that lean toward economic growth rather than environmental protection. This varying approach has led to a number of recent major developments being granted permission that threaten the protected areas’ beauty, along with their cultural and environmental significance.
The major development test is the central planning protection for the landscape in National Parks, and applies to developments such as mines, wind farms and large scale housing developments. It states that planning applications should be refused for major development unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust are calling for a renewed commitment from Government to make sure National Parks are protected against inappropriate, damaging development.
Ruth Bradshaw, policy and research manager at the Campaign for National Parks said,
“It is essential the Government confirms that protecting our National Parks from inappropriate, damaging development remains a national priority. Our National Parks are special because of the beautiful landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage they contain and the recreational opportunities they offer. But they are also important to the rural economy and have huge potential to help improve our nation’s health and wellbeing. These assets must be protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.”
Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University interviewed National Park Authority planners across the country and examined the decisions on 70 planning applications for major development in, and in the setting of, National Parks. This included the approval last year of the world’s largest potash mine (by volume) in the North York Moors National Park. If the mine goes ahead, this huge development will disfigure the landscape, negatively impact on wildlife and cause an increase in HGV traffic during its construction. Some predict it could result in a 13% reduction in visitor numbers and could cause a loss of £35 million in direct tourism expenditure per year (Whitby Area Development Trust, 2015).
Current threats to National Parks and their settings from major development:
- An application for oil extraction next to an ancient woodland in the South Downs National Park .
- The Lake District National Park is currently bidding for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. A planned nuclear power station and linked electricity pylons would impact the setting of the Park, and while it is currently proposed to underground power lines within the Park itself, this is still subject to final approval .
- Proposals to significantly widen roads that cut through the South Downs  and Peak District National Parks .
- Increased quarrying activities  in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, as well as a large holiday complex on the south west edge of the Park .
- The threat of fracking is looming over the South Downs, Exmoor, North York Moors and Peak District National Parks . Last year the Government voted to allow fracking below depths of 1,200m in National Parks. This will mean that not only will the Parks potentially be affected by substantial developments in surrounding areas, but energy companies could also drill beneath them.
Based on the research by Sheffield Hallam University, the Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust are now calling for:
- The Government to reconfirm its commitment to National Parks in the forthcoming 25 Year Plan for the Environment by clearly stating how they will ensure their long-term protection and enhancement. It is also essential that protections for nature are maintained after the UK leaves the European Union.
- National Park Authorities to develop local plan policies that set out clearly how the protection against major development should be applied in their National Park.
- Natural England to take a more active role in ensuring that National Parks are effectively protected from major development. This should include producing an annual update setting out how the major development test is being implemented and providing guidance or training for National Park Authorities to address any issues identified.
Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said,
“National Parks should have the highest level of planning protection, but in practice this can be overridden in the interests of short term economic gain. Our research has shown that national planning guidance should be improved so that when developments are considered, public bodies and developers give due regard to the importance of National Parks. These are the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the English landscape. We should not allow major development to damage National Parks irreparably.”
Ingrid Samuel, historic environment director at the National Trust, said,
“Dealing with major development pressures has always been one of the central challenges for our National Parks, and we know further challenges lie ahead. As the Government considers the UK’s exit from the European Union, it will want to ensure we are competitive. But we think it should also focus on our natural and cultural heritage, which, as well as being much loved by people across the country, is one of our greatest capital assets. Our National Parks help make us distinctive and globally attractive as a nation. The Government’s new 25 Year Plan for the Environment offers a chance to reinforce planning protections for our finest landscapes, and to ensure wildlife is safeguarded through maintaining protections that currently exist in EU law.”
Notes to Editors
- Spokespeople are available for interview.
- The full publication, National Parks – Planning for the Future is available to view here.
- It is underpinned by research by Sheffield Hallam University commissioned by the Campaign for National Parks, Campaign to Protect Rural England and National Trust. Click here to read the evidence report.
- A form of the major development test has been in existence since 1949.
- Information about the potential impact of the potash mine in the North York Moors is available from: Whitby Area Development Trust Assessment of the York Potash Ltd Development Proposals on the Day Visitor Economy of the Whitby Enclave and NYM National Park, 3 February 2015.
- Images can be provided on request.
Information about current threats
- Oil extraction – South Downs National Park
- Pylons and power station – Lake District National Park
- Road widening (A27) - South Downs National Park
- Road widening (Trans-Pennine scheme) - Peak District National Park
- Increased quarrying - Yorkshire Dales National Park
- Large holiday complex – Yorkshire Dales National Park
- Fracking - South Downs, Exmoor, North York Moors and Peak District National Parks
Campaign for National Parks
Campaign for National Parks was founded in 1936 and is the only national charity dedicated to campaigning to protect and promote all the 13 National Parks of England and Wales.
National Parks are inspiring and breathtaking areas of our country. They are part of our cultural heritage, are important for wildlife, contain beautiful landscapes and benefit the nation. They are living and working landscapes and more than 100 million people visit the Parks in England and Wales each year.
Campaign for National Parks works with a wide variety of people and organisations, representing shared concerns, views and voices. We come together to address issues affecting National Parks and take action to keep these beautiful places safe.
For more information visit www.cnp.org.uk
Campaign to Protect Rural England
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Emma Bridgewater, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.
For more information visit www.cpre.org.uk
The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.
Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 775 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
More than 20 million people visit every year, and together with 4.5 million members and over 62,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places forever, for everyone.
For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk