Are new non-statutory designations the way forward?

30 July 2019

Helen Noble of Pennine Prospects tells us about how a new form of Park in the South Pennines could sit alongside traditional National Park designations.

The 70th anniversary of the first National Parks being created is worthy of celebration, but what of the areas left out of that post war reckoning?  

As chief executive of rural regeneration company, Pennine Prospects, my passion is for the South Pennines, considered, but rejected for designated status by the Hobhouse Report of 1947. If you can’t quite place it let me help you.

The South Pennines by Steve Morgan

South Pennines. Photo credit: Steve Morgan

The region covers 460 square miles of upland country in northern England, bounded by the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and flanked by two areas of outstanding natural beauty: Nidderdale and the Forest of Bowland.  

We embrace parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester and have a population of 450,000, with over eight million people living within half an hour’s journey time. It’s the landscape of the Brontes, Ted Hughes and current poet laureate Simon Armitage. Pointedly, it’s also the only upland area of England that is not a National Park or AONB.

Whilst you could argue that has been a disadvantage in the past, certainly in terms of profile, we now believe it’s an opportunity to pioneer a different model of landscape management: a socially purposed and non statutory South Pennines Park, able to unlock the area’s immense potential. We aim to put conservation and people at the heart of a sustainable development framework.

We laid out our plans to Julian Glover, heading up the Government’s review into the future of designated landscapes, when he spent a day with us in February.  

He met over 60 partners, including local businesses and organisations, countryside campaigners, local authorities and students from Calderdale College, working with their peers to create a youth manifesto for the South Pennines, a practical example of the social inclusion we to want to see at the heart of our park.

Kite festival in the South Pennines

A Kite festival in the South Pennines. Photo credit: Craig Shaw

Everyone spoke with the same voice – we don’t need top down designation, we need recognition.

Our starting point is that any new model to care for the South Pennines must be capable of addressing two major issues: climate change and social inequality.  

Our globally important peatlands lock away carbon, whilst we are working with partners to mitigate the flood risk by planting trees, blocking drainage channels and restoring bogs.  These same open spaces provide people with a place for relaxation and exercise – but they could be accessed by many more - and a healthy environment is the bedrock of the local food and tourism sectors, along with farming and forestry.

So engaging the disengaged, creating the environmental champions of tomorrow and supporting locally distinctive businesses will be just some of the measures of our success.

A socially purposed South Pennines Park would be a first for the UK and would sit alongside traditional protected landscapes.  It would also act as a buffer, ensuring these equally precious areas do not become islands disconnected from the wider world.  

To date we have secured a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to tackle the governance challenges underpinning this approach and who knows, implementing a new model may give other parts of the country pause for thought in how they manage their own landscapes.

We are passionate about all our landscapes across the UK.  But we are equally sure there’s more than one way to protect the environment and ensure its benefits are widely enjoyed in the 21st century.  The South Pennines is the perfect place to start.

By Helen Noble
Chief Executive of Pennine Prospects