Ensuring our National Parks are better protected

MPs will shortly be discussing important amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill aimed at ensuring that our Protected Landscapes are able to deliver their full potential for nature, people and climate. Our Policy and Research Manager, Ruth Bradshaw, explains why these amendments are so vital. 

There’s only so much National Park Authorities and AONB managers can deliver themselves. If there is to be any hope of meeting statutory targets to halt nature’s decline and meet net zero, we need all the organisations whose actions affect Protected Landscapes to act with ambition and urgency.

Among the amendments being debated in Westminster are new laws to strengthen the duties on the organisations operating in these areas, to ensure that they do far more to protect and enhance our most precious landscapes.

The current duty on public bodies is far too weak.  

Currently, all public bodies and organisations providing public services, such as National Highways, local authorities and water companies, have a duty to have regard to the statutory purposes of Protected Landscapes. This means they must take account of the potential effect of their decisions and activities on Protected Landscapes, including activities undertaken outside their boundaries which may affect land within them. For National Parks, this requirement is often referred to as “the S62 duty”.

The existing duty to “have regard” is the weakest form of duty that can be imposed as it requires only that there must be some consideration of the statutory purposes, not that any weight needs to be given to those purposes.

We are calling for a change in duty “to further” the purposes. 

This change would mean that relevant organisations would have to demonstrate how any decisions they make which affect land in, or close to, Protected Landscapes are helping to improve the wildlife, cultural heritage, natural beauty and recreational opportunities of these areas. We think this could be the most significant change Governments in England and Wales could make right now to unlock the right kind of investment in Protected Landscapes and deliver their international pledge to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030.

A stronger duty to require all public bodies to further the statutory purposes would prevent damaging development, like major roadbuilding 

One example of why this change is so urgently needed is the number of major roadbuilding schemes currently proposed, or approved, in and around National Parks, despite the additional protections which apply in these areas. Earlier this month (16 November 2022), the Secretary of State granted development consent for the A57 Link Roads just outside the Peak District National Park, despite evidence showing the new roads will increase traffic on Trans-Pennine routes within the Park leading to increases in collisions and pollution and reduced tranquillity.

We, and other local campaigners, have objected to this scheme throughout the development consent process, as have the Peak District National Park Authority (NPA). The weakness of the existing duty meant that National Highways simply needed to say that they had taken account of the impacts on the Park but were then free to ignore those impacts and continue pursuing these damaging roadbuilding plans. With a stronger duty in place there would have been a requirement to further the National Park purposes so full consideration would have to be given to adopting alternative solutions to the traffic and congestion problems in this area before any roadbuilding was even considered. And alternative solutions are available. A National Park-wide weight restriction in conjunction with sustainable transport measures and technological improvements would bring lasting benefits and would avoid the adverse impacts on the Park.

The weakness of the existing duty is also enabling National Highways to put forward other road proposals that threaten our National Parks. After South Downs NPA objected to proposed options for the A27 Arundel Bypass which included substantial roadbuilding in the National Park, National Highways claimed to have taken account of the duty by choosing a route option which avoids the Park itself. But their preferred option is just outside the boundary and would still have a significant impact on the Park and its setting as a result of increased noise, air and light pollution.

A stronger duty would ensure National Highways puts far more effort into developing solutions which improve the Park rather than simply limiting the damage. There is already a less damaging option available here too. The Arundel Alternative proposed by local campaigners would improve traffic flows without requiring major new roadbuilding.

And last, but most definitely not least, there’s the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine dualling project which runs through the North Pennines AONB just to the North of the Yorkshire Dales and would increase pressure for roadbuilding within the Lake District. It’s doubtful this scheme would ever have been put forward if National Highways had to demonstrate how it furthered the statutory purposes.

Now is the time to act 

We have long been calling for the existing duty to be strengthened. This change is one of the proposals that Julian Glover supported and recommended in his Landscapes Review. It’s a proposal which the Government has committed to implementing. Now, all we need is the legislative mechanism to ensure that happens. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill provides a rare opportunity to deliver that legislative change and ensure that all our Protected Landscapes are far better protected against damaging infrastructure proposals in future.

And YOU can play a vital role

In the coming days, we will continue to raise this with parliamentarians. It would help us greatly if you also write to your MP. You can pledge your support, and sign up for more information on how you can support future actions here:

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