What next for National Landscapes in Wales?

30 November 2015

Article by Chloe Corbyn and Nia Seaton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Photograph of Snowdonia Landscape.

Image by Les Haines from Flickr. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Since the passage of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, nationally important landscapes in England and Wales have been designated as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

Wales is home to 4 AONB’s (Anglesey, Clwydian Range & Dee Valley, Llyn Peninsula and Gower – additionally the Wye Valley AONB spans England and Wales) and 3 National Parks (Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia) which together comprise over 25% of the land area of the country.

National Landscapes: Realising their Potential

In 2014, the Minister for Natural Resources commissioned Professor Terry Marsden, John Lloyd-Jones and Dr Ruth Williams to undertake a Review of Designated Landscapes. The purpose of the review was to ‘ensure that our designated landscapes are best equipped to meet current and future challenges while building on their internationally recognised status’.

The review was carried out in two stages – each stage including a call for evidence and engagement with stakeholders, communities within the designated landscapes and the wider general public. Evidence gathering activities including written submissions, face-to-face meetings, public workshops and an online consultation were included as part of the process.

Stage one examined the designations themselves looking at the purposes of these landscapes and the merits of classifying Wales’ designated landscapes under one type of designation. Stage two considered the governance arrangements of designated landscapes. It reviewed governance and management arrangements, and considered the recommendations of the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery. The Research Service published a blog on recommendations from stage one.

Recommendations

The report presents a set of interconnected recommendations. The review team produced a suite of guiding principles which in turn informed the changes proposed to the purposes of designated landscapes in Wales. It then sets out a new vision for the National Landscapes, and it recommends a new governance framework for delivery.

Key recommendations include:

Recommendation 2: There should not be a single designation so that both the AONB and National Park designation is retained in future & Recommendation 3: There is one set of statutory purposes and an associated single statutory duty for both existing designations.

Whilst the review concludes the two distinct designations should be retained it recommends that there should be one set of statutory purposes which are set out in recommendation 6 of the review. The review states that this approach will reflect the equal status in national and international law while celebrating the distinctiveness of these landscapes. Recommendation 6: There should be three interlocking statutory purposes for both the National Parks ad AONBs.

  • To conserve and enhance the distinctive landscape and seascape qualities of the area;
  • To promote physical and mental well-being through the enjoyment and understanding if the landscape of the area;
  • To promote sustainable forms of economic and community development based on the management of natural resources and the cultural heritage of the area.

Recommendation 7: The Sandford Principle, confirming the primacy of the conservation purpose, will be applied across all the designated landscapes.

The Review suggests that purpose 1, the conservation purpose, should have primacy in a situation where there is a conflict between this purpose and the other two. This is known as the Sandford Principle as it is named after Lord Sandford who suggested that National Parks should give primacy to their conservation function during his review of National Parks in the 1970’s. This would be the first time that the Sandford Principle applied to AONBs.

Recommendation 34: The National Assembly for Wales, as it evolves its own internal architecture, should consider the relationship between itself and the National Landscapes of Wales to maximise scrutiny and accountability.

The review suggests that given the ‘national importance of the designated landscapes to Wales’ they should be subject to greater scrutiny by the Assembly in Plenary and in relevant committees. It recommends that the Assembly should debate the contents of the designation’s statutory plans as well as monitor and scrutinise their general performance.

Recommendation 47: The National Park Authorities should retain their strategic planning policy and planning development control functions. Evidence received as part of the report development presented mixed views on where planning powers should reside. The report authors concluded that they found the case for removing planning powers from National Planning Authorities to be unpersuasive. The report states that NPAs should retain all of their planning functions, including their planning development management function, to enable them to be more integrated in the delivery of their purpose. Planning will serve a key function in delivering consistency across National Parks.

Next Steps

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM will lead a Future Landscapes Working Group, involving representatives of the national parks, AONBs, interest groups, business and local government. The group will explore the recommendations and report their findings in 2016.

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