The Government response to the Landscapes Review: Was it worth the wait?

The long-awaited Government response to Julian Glover’s Landscapes Review was finally published on Saturday (15 January 2022), with a consultation now underway on those measures which require legislative change. 

But was it worth waiting over two years for? Campaign for National Parks Policy & Research Manager Ruth Bradshaw delves into the detail to find out more. 

"There are some really good commitments in there," says Ruth, "but there’s also lots that still missing from the package of measures needed to ensure our National Parks really are fit for the 21st century." 

While we welcome the increased ambition for people, nature and climate, it must be backed up by action and investment - as highlighted in our own initial response calling for a new Landscapes Bill, and that of South Downs National Park Authority, calling for 'bold, rapid and well-resourced action'.

What’s good? 

First the good news. The Government has committed to taking forward many of the key changes we called for in our submission to the Review, including: 

  • Strengthening the duties on other bodies such as local authorities and utilities companies to ensure that they give greater weight to the special circumstances which apply when undertaking activities in National Parks. There will also be stronger requirements on these bodies to contribute to the delivery and implementation of National Park Management Plans, ensuring they play a more active role in supporting the key objectives for these areas. 
  • Those key objectives, the statutory purposes for National Parks are also to be amended to place a much stronger emphasis on nature recovery and improving the opportunities for all parts of society to visit. This is very welcome although we would also like to see the inclusion of a stronger emphasis on climate action as recommended in our National Parks and the Climate Emergency report. 
  • Plans to improve the performance of National Park Board members through the introduction of a package of measures including standard role profiles, a shared code of conduct, regular skills audits, improved training and fixed term appointments. It’s particularly good to see support for measures which we’ve highlighted as offering a simpler and more cost-effective way of improving governance as they don’t require legislation so can be implemented quickly. 

The Government also appears to have listened to our feedback and rejected parts of the Review which we raised concerns about including: 

Clearly rejecting the idea of creating a third purpose focused on economic and community vitality. This was one of the few Glover proposals that we didn’t support as it could lead to increased pressure for economic development in National Parks.  

The other key area where we disagreed with Glover was on governance, and particularly National Park Authorities’ (NPAs) role in planning decisions and we’re pleased that there is no reference to taking forward the idea of setting up separate planning committees. But nor is there any commitment to retaining the existing arrangements either and the Government is seeking views on options for changing the composition of the main NPA Board. This is an area we’ll be considering further as we prepare our response to the consultation as we wouldn’t support anything which could lead to a reduction in the proportion of nationally appointed members. 

What’s missing? 

  • New legislation: Commitments to strengthen Management Plans, amend the purposes and place stronger duties on other bodies should result in National Parks making a far bigger contribution to nature recovery, increased access to the countryside and other important national goals. But all these changes require legislation and one of the key things missing from the Government’s response is any commitment as to when that legislative change will actually happen.  
  • Multi-year funding commitments: Another key thing the response fails to address is the thorny issue of resources. There is no commitment to the multi-year funding agreements that we had called for and Glover had recommended. Without consistent funding, it will be very hard for NPAs to plan ahead and deliver the kind of large-scale projects that are needed to deliver these new purposes effectively. The Government is relying on drawing in more funding from the private sector. We’re concerned that too much emphasis on sponsorship and commercial deals could lead to increased pressure for inappropriate development in the Parks. 
  • Investment in engagement: We’re particularly disappointed that there is no support for new long-term engagement programmes similar to Campaign for National Parks Mosaic programme which successfully introduced thousands of first-time visitors to the National Parks. Such engagement activities and the measures to support them, such as improved public transport, will require additional funding.  
  • Mechanisms to reduce car use: We’re also disappointed that the Government isn’t offering any support for transport demand management measures, such as road pricing, which could be used to help fund improved options for car-free travel as well as helping reduce the high levels of car use in National Parks. 
  • Detail on holding NPAs accountable: The Government is proposing new responsibilities for Natural England, particularly with regard to Management Plans and the establishment of a new national landscapes partnership. But it is not clear that either of these bodies will have sufficient capacity and independence to act as a champion for National Parks across Government as well as holding the NPAs accountable for delivery of their Management Plans.  

What happens next? 

We’ll be continuing to study the Government’s response closely and discussing it with key partners as we prepare our response to the consultation which runs until 9 April 2022. But we already know there is an urgent need for many of the changes proposed so, to avoid any further delay, we will also be continuing to push for a new Landscapes Bill to be included in the next Queen’s Speech.  

Join us as a Friend today and add your voice to the growing movement of people fighting to protect and improve National Parks. And please do sign up to our mailing list for further updates. 

Photo: South Downs National Park by Guy Edwardes