Cross-party support for Protected Landscapes: what happens next?

  • Contributor information: CNP

LURB Debate

In last Thursday’s parliamentary session, the House of Lords debated the future of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with clear cross-party support to bring powers up to date. 

Opening with a stark speech about the state of nature and reality of species decline, Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Conservative) made clear “If we are going to turn things round, the UK’s great landscapes will be critical to our success.” He flagged that nature is in worse state inside National Parks, compared to the country as a whole, and tabled a change in legislation that would put National Parks and AONBs at the heart of climate and nature recovery and would require relevant public authorities to act in a way that drives delivery.

New laws to protect National Parks and AONBs are urgently needed 

Cross Bencher Baroness Willis of Summertown supported the amendments: without them, she said, there will be no chance the UK will achieve its international commitment to protect 30% land for nature by 2030 (“30×30”) or the legal targets put in place by the Environment Act.

Lord Blencathra (Con) agreed the “legislation needs updating if our protected landscapes are to be able to rise to these 21st-century challenges” and suggested “the duty of regard placed on public bodies is strengthened and extended to encompass delivery of agreed statutory national park and AONB management plans”. Lord Lucas (Con) agreed that it was vital to “make other agencies join in the purposes of the National Park”. 

Baroness Bennett (Green Party), Baroness Bakewell (Liberal Democrat), the Duke of Montrose (Con) and the Earl of Clancarty (Cross Bencher) all spoke in support of the change in law. The latter also raised concerns about significant cuts in real terms in government funding to National Parks – “they should be given as many tools as is required to be as effective as possible in these significant and urgent ambitions.” 

Baroness Bakewell pointed out the significant benefits to the nation of better Protected Landscapes: “Whether you live in inner-city Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol or Newcastle, you are not that far from a National Park or an AONB. By encouraging the public to visit these areas and experience the pleasures that nature has to offer, we will see an increase in the mental and physical health of the population.” 

Labour support new powers for Protected Landscapes 

Shadow Defra Spokesperson Baroness Hayman of Ullock, told the house that Labour offered their full support: “It must happen. We must ensure that national parks and AONBs have a greater contribution to 30 by 30, with increased benefits for people as well as climate, and to cultural heritage. The Glover review is a blueprint for more effective management of protected landscapes. We need to legislate properly to deliver it. The Government have accepted this in their response.”  

In response, Government Defra Minister Lord Benyon shared his “passion for our National Parks” and assured the House on the Government’s “commitment to 30 by 30, and the inclusion of national parks and designated landscapes in this, is fundamental.” 

How might the Government respond? 

Lord Benyon said that the Government intended to publish guidance to ensure public bodies are correctly exercising their functions in protected landscapes (overdue as the previous Guidance published in 2005 has been removed from the Government website). He hinted that a compromise to take forward this important change in law might be in the offing. It’s worth reminding ourselves that Defra Minister’s were fully behind this change back in January 2022 – and the Levelling Up Bill is the last opportunity the Government will have this side of an election to make good its promises.  

What happens next? 

Such cross-party support for National Parks and AONBs is a good step forward – but there’s still a long way to go to bring the powers that protect our most beautiful landscapes up to date. We want to say a big thank you to Lord Randall for tabling the amendments and for offering to work with the Minister to find a compromise, as well as all other Peers that have added their name to the amendments or spoken in support. All eyes now are to Defra, before the proposals are back in Parliament as the Levelling Up Bill progresses over the next few months. No doubt we will need the help of everyone who loves and values National Parks and AONBs to get this important change into law.

Sign up to our emails to find out more about how you can help.