18 March 20156
Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Designated Landscapes cover around 25 per cent of Wales and comprise three National Parks and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Surveys have shown that Wales’ Designated Landscapes are highly valued, welcoming some 18 million visitors each year who contribute over £1.5 billion in spend per year.
In light of the value of these landscapes, the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, announced an independent review into the purpose and governance of the Designated Landscapes in Wales in the autumn of last year. This blog post, which follows on from a previous In Brief post- A Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales: National Parks and AONBs, provides an update on the first stage of this review.
The purpose of the review was to:
“ensure that our designated landscapes are best equipped to meet current and future challenges while building upon their internationally recognised status”
To give context to the review, the current statutory purposes of the Designated Landscapes are as follows:
The National Park Purposes
“conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the areas…”
“promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of those areas by the public.”
The AONB Purpose
“conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area.”
The first stage of the review has recently been completed by the review panel, which is chaired by Professor Terry Marsden of Cardiff University with John Lloyd Jones and Dr Ruth Williams as members. So far the panel has considered:
- The statutory purposes of Designated Landscapes and whether they remain capable of addressing contemporary challenges and opportunities;
- Whether the existing two statutory landscapes designations should be classified under a single statutory landscape designation.
During the autumn of 2014 stakeholders and members of the public were invited to write to the review panel with their views and supporting evidence. Stakeholder-focused evidence gathering sessions and eight workshops (one for each of the Designated Landscapes) were completed. . Finally meetings were held with the Welsh Government and the Sustainable Futures Commissioner, Peter Davies. The panel’s first stage report is available here.
The outcome of stage one was announced earlier this month and included six key recommendations:
- There should not be a single designation;
- There should be ONE set of statutory purposes and an associated single statutory Duty for both designations;
- The name of “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty” (AONBs) should be changed to “National Landscapes of Wales”
- There should be the establishment of a consistent and resilient nomenclature as well as structure, for example “The National Designated Landscapes of Wales”
- “There should be THREE interlocking statutory purposes for both the National Parks and National Landscapes. These are:
- “To conserve and enhance the distinctive landscape and seascape qualities of the area,” (the Conservation Purpose)
- “To promote physical and mental well-being through the enjoyment and understanding of the landscape of the area,” (the Human Well-being Purpose)
- “To promote sustainable forms of natural resource management and economic and community development which support the cultural heritage of the area.” (the Sustainable Resource Management Purpose)
- There should be a new single Statutory Duty that removes the weak “have regard to” prefixes in the current duties on relevant public bodies, and replaces them with a single and clear duty:
“To contribute to the delivery of the three Purposes of the National Designated Landscapes.”
The report states that the package of recommendations ‘will provide a sustainable foundation for more creative, adaptable and resilient designated landscapes which encourage more consistency, clarity and diversity.’
The outcome of stage one will now provide the basis for proceeding to stage two of the review which is expected to start this month. Stage two includes to:
- Review the governance and management arrangements of the Designated Landscapes;
- Review and examine how any governing body/bodies would best promote collaboration and joint working while avoiding duplication; and
- Review and examine the best way for any future governing body to reinforce local accountability and decision making.
In the meantime the Minister has laid an amendment to the Planning (Wales) Bill to bring forward regulations that would enable the transfer of the planning functions of a National Park Authority to a Joint Planning Board. A Joint Planning Board would be a new kind of Local Planning Authority able to carry out all the development management functions of existing Local Planning Authorities. It would effectively be a merger between an existing authority and all or part of at least one other authority. The Planning Bill introduced in October 2014 specifically excluded the National Parks from this provision.