The Sandford Principle mustn’t be endangered in Wales

Following the publication of the long-awaited report from the Future Landscapes Wales Working Group, Campaign for National Parks’ Policy and Research Manager, Ruth Bradshaw, explains the progress made and why the Sandford Principle cannot be compromised.

The Future Landscapes Wales Working Group’s report Future Landscapes: Delivering for Wales sets out a range of proposals aimed at ensuring National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) can play a leading role in the new approach to the sustainable management of natural resources. This is especially important given recent changes in legislation in Wales. The report highlights that National Parks and AONBs are important national assets. It also sets out a range of proposals aimed at ensuring that these areas can deliver even more for Wales in the future.

This recent report is the culmination of several years’ worth of investigation into designated landscapes in Wales which first began in 2014 with the setting up of an Independent Review of Designated Landscapes led by Professor Terry Marsden. It’s a process that many organisations, including the Campaign for National Parks, have contributed to, so there is a lot of interest in the Working Group’s report.

Rainbow in the Brecon Beacons. Credit: CNP

Two years ago this week, I was in Cardiff giving evidence to Professor Marsden and colleagues. This was a good opportunity to highlight our views on the opportunities for the National Parks of Wales to adapt to meet the challenges of the future. When the final Marsden report was published later in 2015, we were pleased to see that the recommendations supported many of the points we made in our evidence, particularly around the importance of National Park Authorities retaining their full planning powers.

One of the recommendations from the Marsden report was to promote the current National Park duty to have regard for the socio-economic well-being of the area into a third purpose for National Parks. The Future Landscapes report builds on this and proposes that new legislation is needed to take this idea forward.

The Campaign for National Parks has been very concerned that there was no mention of the Sandford Principle in the Future Landscapes report even though the Marsden report had stressed that this needed to be maintained. The Sandford Principle is a long-established mechanism for ensuring that priority is given to the conservation of National Parks where there are irreconcilable conflicts with other purposes and duties. This simple principle has been central to the protection of our beautiful National Parks for decades. Without the Sandford Principle, there is a real risk that economic interests will be given priority over the conservation and enhancement of National Parks. Of course we set about ensuring that this principle would not be excluded.

We worked with the National Park Societies in Wales to brief Assembly Members (AMs) in advance of the debate around the report on the 6 June. We were really pleased that so many AMs spoke up for the value of National Parks and stressed the importance of maintaining this key part of their protection. And we welcomed the assurances, Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, gave in the Welsh Assembly that the Sandford Principle (or an iteration of it) would be at the heart of the future protection and enhancement of Welsh National Parks. The Minister also confirmed that any substantive change to the legislation on National Parks will require primary legislation and that there will be consultation on whether legislative changes are needed.

With your support we will continue to work with key partners in Wales to ensure that these and other changes arising from the Future Landscapes work deliver National Parks which are protected and enhanced for everyone to enjoy.