Government response to National Park amendments ‘a missed opportunity’

  • Contributor information: CNP

The government has chosen not to accept legislative amendments put forward by Gary Streeter MP in the levelling up bill that would give new purposes and powers to Protected Landscapes. We are incredibly disappointed in the decision and have called on the government to think again about these urgently needed reforms.

Photo credit: Dick Hawkes, Water Vole in South Downs National Park 

The amendments would deliver key recommendations from the Glover Review of Protected Landscapes in England, allowing National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) to do more for nature and climate, helping the government reach their commitments on net zero, to halt and reverse the decline in the abundance of species and to protect 30% of our land and sea by 2030.

Despite many of the recommendations from the Glover Review being accepted by the government earlier in the year, and the Review itself being well over-due for implementation, the government failed to adopt the amendments yesterday in the report stage of the levelling up bill or offer any concrete proposals of their own. Responding to Gary Streeter’s speech on the amendments in the House of Commons, the Levelling Up Minister indicated that the government would be ‘implementing several recommendations’ from the review, but we do not believe these changes go nearly far enough. You can read Gary Streeter’s speech and the Minister’s response in full below.

This comes after Campaign for National Parks and 46 other organisations signed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on the government to greater nature protection in National Parks and AONBs.

We’re now working hard to ensure that a full suite of amendments for National Parks and AONBs are taken up when the levelling up bill passes through the House of Lords early in the New Year.

Commenting, Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive, Campaign for National Parks, said:

“Yesterday’s response by the government to National Park amendments put forward in the levelling-up bill is deeply frustrating.

The government had the perfect opportunity to deliver it’s own proposals to take forward the Landscape Review by giving new powers and purposes to protected landscapes. Instead, it has rowed back on previous pledges to implement many of the Review’s recommendations. The measures referred to by the Minister will go nowhere near what’s needed to stop the damaging decline already inflicted on National Parks through funding cuts – let alone secure the huge step change in nature recovery needed for 30×30.

While warm words are being spoken at the COP15 summit in Montreal, the government is showing a failure of leadership at home when it comes to protecting nature and wildlife in our most important landscapes. As our recent analysis shows, many areas of our National Parks are in an alarmingly poor state for nature. We urgently require new legislation to help them and other protected landscapes do more for restoring nature and combatting climate change.

Only last week the Prime Minister was celebrating the value that National Parks bring to his own constituency. His government need to seize the moment and bring forward substantial proposals in the House of Lords so these unique and special landscapes can to do more for nature, climate and people.”

How you can support this work

We will be working hard over the coming weeks to ensure we enhance nature protection in our National Parks and AONBs. We will be sharing our concerns with parliamentarians and it would help 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:

Yesterday Sir Gary Streeter MP spoke in the report stage debate of the levelling up and regeneration bill, setting out his amendments:

“I rise to speak to new clauses 8 to 11 in my name and the names of other hon. Members.

As chair of the national parks all-party parliamentary group, and with a delightful corner of Dartmoor in my constituency, I am pleased to propose these new clauses. As we all know, national parks provide many benefits to nature, climate, heritage and culture. However, they are underpinned by an outdated legislative framework, which prevents them from realising their full potential for people, nature’s recovery, the 30×30 initiative and the Government’s net zero goals.

The Glover review of protected landscapes in 2019 highlighted these issues and put forward a package of recommendations to address them, the majority of which, to be fair, were accepted by the Government in their response to the review. But it is time that we implemented them to make best use of the rich natural heritage that we have been blessed with in our country. The new clauses that I have tabled could act as a vehicle to take forward the Glover review’s recommendations.

National parks play a key role in furthering the Government’s levelling-up mission, particularly in having a positive impact on our health, wellbeing and pride of place. Given this Bill’s focus on environmental matters and the planning system, it provides the perfect opportunity to implement the Glover recommendations to strengthen national parks as planning authorities. We must take this opportunity as these next few years are vital for meeting the commitment to protect 30% of England for nature by 2030, for halting the decline in species abundance and for making progress towards net zero.

New clause 8 delivers on proposal 1 in the Glover review to give national parks a renewed mission to recover biodiversity and nature. Natural England has found that only 26% of the protected habitat area inside national parks is in favourable condition, compared with 39% for England as a whole. The new clause seeks to address this disparity by recognising that we have a role not just in protecting national parks, but in actively strengthening and recovering them. It also delivers on proposal 7 of the Glover review, which proposed a stronger mission to connect all people with our national landscapes.

National parks have invaluable potential to improve people’s connection with nature and our levelling-up goals require that we should all enjoy equal access to nature across the country. During the lockdown, we learnt that, if we did not already know it. Natural England has shown that, if everyone has access to a green space, we could save the NHS more than £2 billion a year.

New clause 9 implements two recommendations from the Glover review to give national park authorities a new duty to address climate change and to strengthen the existing duty on public bodies to further national park purposes. The Government have already said that national park management plans should contain

“ambitious goals to increase carbon sequestration” and “set out their local response to climate adaptation”.

New clause 10 helps in setting out realistic goals for national park improvement. That would deliver other key elements of proposal 3 in the Glover review, that strengthened management plans should set clear priorities and actions for nature’s recovery and climate in national parks, and that legislation should give public bodies a responsibility to help prepare and implement management plans.

New clause 11 seeks to address Glover’s ambition to increase skills and diversity on national park authority boards. The Government’s response to Glover committed to measures to ensure that boards

“have more flexibility to balance diversity and expertise” and proposes “a more merit-based approach”.

So let us get on with it. The new clause would deliver this flexibility, removing the restrictive legislation referred to in the Government’s response, and ensure that boards are better equipped to deliver national park purposes. I am supported in these new clauses by the Better Planning Coalition, representing 27 organisations across the key sectors of the environment, housing, planning, and heritage.

I had a positive meeting last week with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who is responsible for national park policy. She is committed to working with national parks to bring about the bright new future that Glover anticipates and I hope that those on the Front Bench today will assist her in that vital mission.”

The Minister for Levelling Up, Lucy Frazer MP, spoke in response to Sir Gary Streeter’s amendments later in the debate:

“My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) mentioned the Glover review. He will know that Defra is implementing several recommendations from that landscapes review and is also continuing to consider how best to implement others.”