“Not blind opposition to progress. But opposition to blind progress.”

  • Contributor information: CNP

Rose O’Neill, of Campaign for National Parks and John Watkins of National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) explain their concerns about Investment Zones. Title quote – John Muir.

The Government’s proposed Investment Zones may impact 7 National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – together accounting for 2 million hectares of our most special landscapes. This follows announcements on Freeports that include the New Forest, Dartmoor and North York Moors National Parks, along with many AONBs, within their boundaries. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding on the North York Moors coast, with growing evidence suggesting this is a direct effect of the Teesside Freeport, to know that unregulated development in these precious landscapes would not end well.

Image: Map showing the overlap of the potential growth investment zones (in grey) with National Parks (brown) and AONBs (green).

Protected Landscapes communities thrive because of the high nature value and beautiful landscapes within which they live and work. The prosperity and identity of these communities will undoubtedly be jeopardised and their voice disenfranchised by a deregulated competition where only the biggest numbers on one short term metric wins – one which is based on a measure of the economy at large not of the value to those communities who will ultimately pay the cost.

Protected Landscapes are national economic assets. They contribute billions of pounds to regional economies, supporting businesses, creating thousands of jobs. It is the very beauty and tranquillity of these landscapes which make them bolster the image and reputation of the UK internationally and make it a renowned destination. There were some 250 million visitors last year to Protected Landscapes, generating tourism spend in the billions. Overall, the economic contribution of Protected Landscapes is estimated to be over £24 billion each year (gross value added). Evidence that a healthy environment is absolutely critical to a strong, healthy economy.

Land use decisions are often complex and contested. They bring to the surface sometimes clashing views and values on what is good and who should benefit. Individual, community, local, regional and national imperatives introduce further complicating forces. There is a path through this to delivering long term benefit to rural communities and the nation. But this path involves dialogue framed by and respecting the vital protections and policies, won over decades and developed democratically, informed by evidence and experience.

The long-established planning protections that currently apply in Protected Landscapes are accepted and defended because they protect the long term prosperity of rural communities. The arbitrary removal of regulations and protections  – which defend the value which rural communities have created in AONBs and National Parks – in the hope of short term gain, comes with significant risk. Act in haste, repent at leisure.

Campaign for National Parks has written to the new Secretaries of State at Defra and at DLUHC seeking formal reassurance that National Parks and AONBs are be excluded from investment zones, and that the additional protections currently afforded through planning policies will continue to apply, including the presumption against major development.

We have now received a response from the Secretary of State for Levelling-Up which you can read here.