The chairman of the Association of Rural Communities, Alastair Dinsdale, sent this response to the inquiry into the proposal by Natural England regarding extensions to two National Parks (the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales) – the Lakes to Dales Landscape Designation Project – asking if Area of Natural Beauty ( AONB ) status would be a better way to preserve and protect some special landscapes, in line with the Sandford Principle, rather than including them in over-sized, undemocratic quango administrations. He stated:
Generations of our ancestors – farmers, miners and quarry workers – have left their imprint upon the Yorkshire Dales. From them we have inherited something so special that the dales have been designated as a National Park. As a farmer in Wensleydale I feel honoured to follow in their footsteps. This inheritance has made me and the other members of the Association of Rural Communities passionate about conserving and preserving this beautiful landscape.
As we travel through the Yorkshire Dales we are also aware of how much mining and quarrying have left their impact upon this area and created some fascinating sites of special scientific interest. The quarries and mine spoils act as a unifying factor within the Yorkshire Dales which is not shared with those areas now being considered for incorporation into this National Park.
We are grateful for all the work that has been done by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to conserve and maintain footpaths. But sadly we have to question some of the statements made by Natural England about the impact of the National Park upon this area.
It’s been stated that National Parks should be thriving, living, working landscapes notable for their natural beauty and cultural heritage, which inspire visitors and local communities, and in which a wide-range of services are in good condition and valued by society; and that they should be places where sustainable development can be seen in action, where the communities of the Parks take an active part in decisions about their future, to achieve sustainable agriculture and transport, and healthy, prosperous communities.1
Natural England also stated that “no other regulation is imposed as a consequence of National Park designation – for example designation does not add any new regulatory restrictions on how land is farmed.” 2 It adds that NPAs administer a Sustainable Development Fund which is disbursed to projects in National Parks and are also very successful at attracting other external grants and income. 3
Just recently it cost a farmer in the Yorkshire Dales National Park £17,000 to gain permission to extend his dairy farm. From my own experience I can tell you that it is far more costly and much harder to run a modern farm within a National Park compared to the overheads a farmer faces outside such an area. Nor do we get any quicker or better access to grants compared with those farming outside the National Parks. Many farmers in the Yorkshire Dales do not accept, as Natural England maintains, that the National Park helps farmers to embrace modern practices and so “ensure that agri-environment scheme delivery is properly integrated with Park objectives and activities within the farmed environment”.4
Those with farms within the Yorkshire Dales National Park want to co-operate and assist with maintaining these special landscapes but find it difficult to do so with a quango which is also the planning authority. We know many farmers who, after bitter experiences with the Authority’s planning department, will never co-operate with a National Park scheme whatever they are offered. They do not accept that the Authority has either the credibility or often the expertise. I can give examples of where schemes run by the Authority have had little uptake and so very little impact.
We believe that planning policies that are linked to landscape management can cause conflict and that planning should be as much as possible kept separate from preserving and enhancing the landscape. From my experience conservation and enhancement projects work best when they are run by Natural England. Landscape enhancement projects are also much better controlled through the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme because it ties projects to a payment system. This is much more cost effective.
For instance if the National Park comes up with a plan to plant trees it advertises for people to come forward and co-operate but does not proactively go out to find them. English Nature, however, will approach farmers and landowners, explain the criteria and what the payment will be.
We believe that National Park Authority planning departments have a considerable inherent weakness as compared with those run by District Councils in that they cannot turn to in-house building control, environmental health, and economic development specialists. This leads to a considerable loss in expertise. We believe that District Councils can, therefore, be far more effective at administering areas of natural, special beauty as can be seen in Nidderdale and the North Pennines AONBs.
Attracting more people to visit the Dales does not benefit that many farmers. There is very little spin-off to them because diversification into tourism doesn’t really help the farming business as it diverts resources away from what they do best. Most of the tourist related businesses in the Dales (gift shops and bed and breakfast hotels) are run by those who have comparatively recently moved into the area. The only spin-off from that is that more low paid jobs are available.
Has Natural England carried out any regulatory impact assessment to determine what effect designation will have on agricultural businesses?
In its general approach to designation Natural England states that one of the criteria is to balance the benefit/positive impact of these proposals against the likely cost of designation.5
Has Natural England carried out an assessment of that?
And will the creation of even larger National Parks lead to thriving, sustainable communities which can take an active part in decisions about their future?
From my experience and that of the Association of Rural Communities the answer is No.
First – If these two National Parks are extended the communities within them will have even less chance to take an active part in decision making. Those in the Lune and Eden Valleys for instance have no historic ties with Wensleydale. So how will they relate to a quango based in Bainbridge? If National Parks are extended and maybe more are set up we are in danger of creating a “State within a State” where local people have very little say in their future.
Secondly – sadly the communities already within the Yorkshire Dales National Park have not thrived and become more sustainable. Just look at how many village schools have closed. And how many young people have been forced to leave the Dales? N Yorks County Coun John Blackie has championed and fought hard for local people to be able to provide housing for their children in the Dales – but he has often been heavily criticised by the Authority for doing so. For centuries our communities survived without the National Park. We are not sure that all will continue to do so.
Has the cost to those communities in the areas that may be designated been honestly evaluated? And have their opinions concerning their future been listened to?
Let me give one illustration of how the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has neither listened to a community, helped local businesses continue to be sustainable, nor protected the environment.
National Parks are, it is stated, to be attractive locations for large-scale community and charitable events.6 Possibly the largest are those which involve mass walks over the Three Peaks route. One veteran walker commented that, when there is a charity walk event, there can be up to 50 people waiting to get through each stile along that route. He used to walk the Three Peaks to enjoy the tranquillity and to commune with nature. But the Three Peaks route has become so popular that is difficult to do that for many months of each year.
Compare that with this statement about the North Pennines AONB: “The large tracts of open moorland see few walkers and make an ideal venue for those requiring solitude. Cross Fell and its adjacent high fells on the main Pennine ridge offer hill walking of the highest quality. Although the higher land grabs the headlines this AONB from valley to summit has something for walkers.”7
Has an independent study been carried out to assess the impact on the environment and upon farmland of such mass walks or of repairing and widening footpaths along the Three Peaks route? I have walked some of the less well known footpaths on Whernside and found that, due to over use, they were like moving bogs. How is that preserving the environment?
The Association of Rural Communities does not believe that National Park Authorities do take the lead in encouraging mediation, negotiation and co-operation8 – in fact, quite the contrary.
Our association believes that the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has not listened to local residents, landowners, farmers or veteran walkers about the over-use of the Three Peaks route. Those who come on the mass walks spend very little money in local shops and cafes – but often do leave their rubbish behind. And the Authority has created its own merchandise which is undermining local businesses.
The Sandford Principle states that “Where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment, then conservation interest should take priority.”
In 2010 the Government’s guidance concerning designation as National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty stated that both had the highest status of protection as far as landscape and natural beauty was concerned. 9
The object of this inquiry is to ascertain if it is especially desirable to designate more areas to be included in National Parks and so make them more open to public enjoyment.10 These will include Orton Fells, the Northern Howgills and Mallerstang. In view of what has happened along the Three Peaks route we would argue that the better way to protect those beautiful landscapes and save them for posterity would be to designate them as AONBs maybe with conservation boards.
This has proved especially effective in Nidderdale and for the Northern Pennines AONB. People have been encouraged to visit those AONBs – but not to the detriment of the environment. And the local communities have a say in their future through their democratically elected representatives. There are far fewer second homes and holiday cottages in Nidderdale – and that helps the communities to be more sustainable.
Yes – please do act to preserve, protect and enhance such special areas as Orton Fells, the Northern Howgills and Mallerstang. But let that be done through designation as AONBs and not through what we as an Association see as flawed, unmanageable, unrepresentative, over grown quangos.
1 Natural England Background Paper – Boundary variations to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks 4 (a) and (b) as quoted from the English National Parks UK Government Vision and Circular 2010.
2 Ibid pt 20
3 Ibid pt 21
4 English National Parks and the Broads, UK Government Vision and Circular 2010 : 4.57
5 Natural England Guidance for assessing landscapes for designation as National Park or Area of Outstanding Beauty in England, p2
6 English National Parks and the Broads, UK Government Vision and Circular 2010: 4.27
7 www.walkingbritain.co.uk – North Pennines AONB
8 English National Parks and the Broads, UK Government Vision and Circular 2010: 4.19
9 Ibid : 4.20
10 Natural England Background Paper pt 5 :This also states “DEFRA identified various benefits of NPAs including in relation to recreation, tourism, health and wellbeing, rural development, local economies, social inclusion and democracy”. We argue that this has not been achieved in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, especially social inclusion and democracy.