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Wensleydale

Government Response to the Landscapes Review: Consultation

Wednesday 13 April, 2022, by Mark Sadler

Response by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Introductory letter to Lord Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Q6. Should a strengthened first purpose of protected landscapes follow the proposals set out in chapter 2? Yes/No/Unsure.

Yes.

Q7. Which other priorities should be reflected in a strengthened first purpose?

The Authority strongly supports the proposed strengthening of the first statutory purpose (although It is important that the purposes remain concise and easily understood). We believe that is an essential step towards National Parks playing a major role in delivering on the Government’s 30×30 ambitions

However, legislative changes will provide only marginal gains for wildlife unless backed up by additional resources being directed towards achieving environmental outcomes in national parks, whether that be through core grant; ELM (see Q8); green finance etc.

In the midst of the positive changes to the statutory purposes that are proposed, it is essential that there is no diminution in the status of the cultural heritage of the National Parks. As well as being an explicit part of the first statutory purpose, cultural heritage is a fundamental part of ‘natural beauty’ (as set out in Appendix 1 of Guidance for Assessing Landscapes for designation as National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England published by Natural England). The value of the cultural heritage needs to enshrined in the proposed new vision/guidance for Protected Landscapes and in the design of ELM.

Agricultural transition

Q8. Do you support any of the following options as we develop the role of protected landscapes in the new environmental land management schemes. Tick all that apply.

Designing the environmental land management schemes in a way that works for all farmers and land managers, including the specific circumstances for those in protected landscapes, recognising that farmers in these areas are well-placed to deliver on our environmental priorities.

No – we don’t support this approach because it implies a universal scheme i.e. not one where (additional) resources are targeted on the Protected Landscapes. It is also essential that ELM schemes can be tailored a little to meet the circumstances of each protected landscape (as per the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme – but hopefully with less centrally-imposed bureaucracy).

Using Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) to identify projects or habitats within protected landscapes.

No – we don’t support this approach because it implies that ELM funding would only be targeted towards nature recovery, and not other public goods. Given that NPAs will have no control over the final LNRSs that cover each NP, it also implies that National Parks might not even be priorities for nature recovery.

Monitoring the effectiveness and uptake of the new environmental land management schemes in protected landscapes. Using this to inform whether further interventions are needed to ensure we are on track for wider nature recovery ambitions.

We support this approach but only in association with the effective implementation of the last option below. Monitoring is essential and it would be helpful if datasets can be cut to protected landscape boundaries. Statistics on uptake are useful but more important is the actual impact of schemes in achieving the desired environmental outcomes.

At the local level, we would like to see an approach that empowers land managers, and involves them in a more collaborative approach to monitoring those outcomes (as demonstrated through the recent Defra-funded NE/YDNPA ‘payment by results’ ELM Trial in Wensleydale. This approach will require initial investment in facilitation and skills development but has the potential for long-term benefits (by more actively engaging farmers in achieving environmental outcomes) and more cost effective delivery. The NPAs would be well placed to provide ‘quality assurance’ for such an approach within NPs.

Creating a clear role for protected landscape organisations in the preparation of Local Nature Recovery Strategies. Our recent LNRS consultation specifically asks for views on the role of different organisations in the preparation of LNRSs, including protected landscapes.

Uncertain – we’re not sure what is envisaged here. We believe that protected landscapes should have a ‘controlling’ role in preparing the part of any LNRS that covers the protected landscape. This is essential as LNRSs and ELM will be key vehicles in delivering nature recovery within protected landscapes, and protected landscapes must be enshrined as priority areas (nationally and regionally).

Building on FiPL, empowering protected landscapes to support decision-making and delivery against agreed priorities, including through dedicated project coordinators and advisers.

We strongly support this option as it has the greatest potential to deliver both the nature recovery ambitions and the wider environmental outcomes to which the Government is committed (climate change, water quality, natural flood management etc). Such an approach should include:

  • Delegated funding
  • Resources for local advice and facilitation
  • Role for National Park (and AONB) Management Plans in setting local and spatial priorities
  • An integrated approach that combines environment (public benefits in their widest sense) with the farm business
  • An ‘environmental broker’ role for NPAs in blending public and private finance

The role of local facilitators will be vital to making the most of ELM (see Q9).

Q9. Do you have any views of supporting evidence you would like to input as we develop the role of protected landscapes in the new environmental land management schemes?

Evidence to support NPs as priority areas for ELM spend

Yorkshire Dales National Park:

  • nationally-designated for its natural beauty, wildlife, cultural heritage and opportunities for outdoor recreation;
  • almost 60,000 ha of national priority habitat;
  • 17 different national habitat types and well over 100 national BAP priority species.
  • over 39,000 registered historical features, including 2,127 Listed Buildings; 292 Scheduled Monuments; and, 2 Registered Parks and Gardens.
  • over 2,600 km of rights of way and 130,000 ha of open access land.
  • Millions of visitors per year;

But…

  • Only 28% of SSSIs in YDNP are in favourable condition;
  • 36,000 ha of priority habitat lies outside SSSIs and is not in management under an agri-environment scheme (i.e. is unprotected and unmanaged). For English National Parks as a whole, this amounts to 170,000 ha.
  • Headwaters of 7 catchments that currently contribute to flooding most of northern England.
  • Huge areas of degraded peat that is still releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
  • An economy that is disproportionately dependent on farming – around 24% of all businesses and nearly 10% of total employment in the National Parks, around 13,500 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) jobs.

The role of NPAs in ELM

There are numerous examples of how the expertise, local knowledge, and strong local relations protected landscapes bodies could play an effective role in delivering elements of ELM:

  • Farming in Protected Landscapes – from a standing start in June 2021, the programme has already started to demonstrate how an integrated and more flexible local approach can deliver more for national priorities.
  • Catchment Sensitive Farming – the Authority has been delivering the CSF programme within the National Park for many years, and has a strong track record that has led to measurable improvements in river water quality.
  • Payment by Results – working with Natural England, this 3-year national ELM trial in Wensleydale demonstrated how a focus on outcomes rather than prescriptions could better engage farmers and deliver better environmental results.
  • Tees-Swale: naturally connected – working alongside the North Pennines AONB with National Lottery Heritage Funding to demonstrate how groups of ‘high nature value’ farmers can be incentivised to restore and reconnect nature across landscapes.

A stronger mission for connecting people and places

Q10. Should AONBs have a second purpose relating to connecting people and places, equivalent to that of National Parks? Yes/No/Unsure

N/A.

Q11. Should a strengthened second purpose of protected landscapes follow the proposals set out in Chapter 3 to improve connections to all parts of society with our protected landscapes? Yes/No/Unsure

Yes.

Q12. Are there other priorities that should be reflected in a strengthened second purpose?

We welcome the proposed updating of the second purpose to take into account the pivotal role that our landscapes play in improving health and well-being outcomes for both residents and visitors.

We also welcome the proposed changes to improve connections with all parts of society. However, as with the proposed changes to the first purposes, only marginal benefits will accrue unless NPAs have the agency and long-term resources to deliver:

  • removing barriers for all parts of society and being able to take a more active role in supporting access. This is being delivered by local projects now but their positive impacts are limited by the temporary, ad hoc nature of funding;
  • a balance between encouraging wider (and deeper) access with the need to manage visitor impacts. Any conflict between the two statutory National Park purposes has been managed since the 1970s through the application of the ‘Sandford Principle’ and any amendments to the statutory purposes will need to consider how they inter-relate. The ‘Sandford Principle’ remains a valid and necessary last resort but National Park Authorities, with the correct resources, have the expertise to continue to manage and deliver on both purposes.

We have some concern regarding the suggestion that the National Landscapes Partnership will have a role in “promoting tourism” (Strategic direction section Page 8), as this does not reflect the current statutory framework.

Managing visitors

Q13. Do you support any of the following options to grant National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority greater enforcement powers to manage visitor pressures?

No – this proposal is at odds with the Government’s wider ambitions to encourage diversity and the National Parks being welcoming to all. The primary focus of National Park Authorities should be on engagement rather than enforcement – making sure that visitors have the information to make the most of their visits to National Parks without causing harm to the sensitive environments, landscapes, heritage and communities. In the rare cases where enforcement action is needed, other local authorities already have the necessary powers to be able to act. A strengthened s62 duty (see Q22) would help to ensure that those Authorities were more proactive in using the powers that are already available to them.

Q14. Should we give National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority and local highway authorities additional powers to restrict recreational motoring?

Unsure. It is not clear what these additional powers would be. NPAs already have powers to make TROs on unsealed routes for all the reasons listed in Q15 below. Use of TROs in the Yorkshire Dales has already restricted recreational motor vehicles on unsealed routes that are sensitive to this use. However, we would welcome any changes to legislation that would make it easier/simpler to achieve good environmental outcomes.

Q15. For which reasons should National Park Authorities, the Broads Authority and local authorities exercise this power?

Environmental protection
Prevention of damage
Nuisance
Amenity
Other [PLEASE STATE]

TROs can be made by NPAs for the reasons listed see:
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/2542/contents/made
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1984/27/section/1
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1984/27/section/22A

Q16. Should we legislate to restrict the use of motor vehicles on unsealed unclassified roads for recreational use, subject to appropriate exemptions? Yes – everywhere/ Yes – in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty only/Yes – in National Parks only/No/Unsure

Unsure. It is not clear how this proposed new legislation would relate to rights of way legislation. The NERC Act has already removed any public motor vehicle rights from unsealed unclassified road (UUR) which are shown on the Definitive Map as footpath, bridleway, or restricted byway. UURs whose public rights are not shown on the Definitive Map are accepted to be at least footpath, however they could have higher rights.

Those routes which do have proven or possible public rights for recreational motor vehicles and are sensitive to that use will still need to be managed regardless. We would welcome any changes to legislation that would make it easier/simpler to achieve good outcomes on the ground for all users.

Q17. What exemptions do you think would be required to protect the rights and enjoyment of other users e.g., residents, businesses etc?

Too many to list. Without careful thought new legislation could have unintended consequences.

Local governance

Q21. Which of the following measures would you support to improve local governance?

Improved training and materials

Yes.

Streamlined process for removing underperforming members

Yes.

Greater use of advisory panels

Yes – but this should be at the discretion of each protected landscape body, not mandated by central government

Greater flexibility over the proportion of national, parish & local appointments

Yes.

Merit-based criteria for local authority appointments

Yes.

Reduced board size

Yes. The Authority has previously submitted proposals to reduce its Board from 25 to 16. The process of appointing and managing the membership of NPA Boards should be made easier and quicker.

Secretary of State appointed chair

No.

Other [Please state]

We agree that our Boards need to be more representative, strategic and appropriately skilled. At the same time, local representation and accountability must also remain an important feature of Board composition, in order to ensure a degree of democratic accountability to the place.

We cannot support the proposal of Secretary of State appointed chair. First, because NPAs should remain robustly non-political. Second, because the Chair needs to have the confidence of the Membership (and local stakeholders). If the Chair is not directly elected by the Board – through open and transparent local process – there is a risk of a disconnect that will simply undermine NPA leadership.

Clearer role for public bodies

Q22. Should statutory duties be strengthened so that they are given greater weight when exercising public functions?

YES.

We would support a stronger legal duty on relevant bodies to give greater weight to National Park purposes both when operating in the National Park and when determining when and where to target their operations/resources. This would address the weaknesses of the current duty to “have regard”. We would like to see something stronger, focused on adding value and delivering positive outcomes.

We recognise, though, that the duty will require careful consideration so that it does not create a situation where the ‘demands’ of a national park authority can be seen to override the legitimately made decisions of democratically accountable public bodies.

Q23. Should statutory duties be made clearer with regards to the role of public bodies in preparing and implementing plans? Yes/No/Unsure

YES – this needs to include active participation in both the development of the NPMP and the subsequent delivery of the agreed objectives within it. The role of National Park Management/Partnership Plans remains key to the work of all bodies operating in National Parks. For Management Plans to be truly effective they need to have the collective commitment from the relevant bodies to contribute to their preparation and implementation. They also need a reciprocal commitment from National Park Authorities to create a framework that ensures objectives are credible and realistic. We, therefore, support a stronger legal framework that assists in the delivery of the agreed Management Plan but without creating the sort of statutory impositions that the production of Local Plans entails.

General power of competence

Q24. Should National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority have a general power of competence?

Yes – whilst the Authority remains unsure about the exact problem that the introduction of such a power would resolve, we recognise that other Authorities believe it would provide NPAs with a clearer legal framework for commercial operations. We would welcome further legal analysis/consideration of these issues by Defra.

Overall

Q25. If you have any further comments on any of the proposals in this document, please include them here.

We really welcome the overall level of ambition in the government’s response. We are ambitious and committed to helping to address the four great challenges we face around climate, nature recovery, the future of Land Management and access and engagement. The Landscapes Review represents the opportunity to accelerate that work – at scale – in response to the climate and nature emergencies.

We believe that Government needs to be bolder and more assertive in stating that the delivery of its wider environmental agenda and ambitions should be centred on the protected landscapes of England. To be frank, if this is not recognised, then we believe, there is little chance of these objectives being delivered at all. This focus on protected landscapes should manifest itself in the policy development around Environment Land Management (ELM) schemes, Local Nature Recovery Strategies [LNRS] and the delivery of 30 by 30. All three of these are intrinsically linked. We would welcome a direct role for national park authorities in the delivery of ELMS. The Farming in Protected Landscapes [FIPL] programme has already started to show the benefits of a more targeted and delegated approach in delivering national policy objectives.

We support the case for legislation to strengthen Section 62 of the Environment Act and improve governance, and would hope that this can be introduced at the earliest opportunity.

We welcome the announcement of a new Landscape Strategy that provides greater clarity on the priorities and outcomes that the family of protected landscapes can deliver for the nation. We would ask only that this national strategy does not lose sight of the importance and the benefits of strong and effective engagement of local stakeholders and communities. NPAs are based in, and are responsive to, local circumstances, which is part of what makes them ideal vehicles for (cost-)effectively delivering national objectives.

We also welcome the increased importance placed on access to Protected Landscapes for the nation’s health and well-being. However, the value of residential experiences for young people (highlighted in Julian Glover’s report) should not be overlooked. The proposal for ‘a night under the stars’ was fundamentally about connecting people with nature and the experience of waking up in a national park; such experiences can be transformative in the lives of young people.

Similarly, it is important to note that many barriers to access lie in broader socio-economic factors (not least of which are poor public transport links both to and within National Parks). These are systemic and cannot be addressed by action by National Park Authorities, nor by the current occasional short term and ad hoc interventions by the relevant bodies in National Parks.

We are generally supportive of the Government’s commitment to explore ways for Protected Landscapes bodies to support responsible authorities in preparing and delivering LNRSs but this commitment is too vague. Past experience suggests that environmental issues will never be top of local authority agendas. There is an opportunity to ensure that Protected Landscapes lead the way in nature recovery, and that requires a strong voice for NPAs in the process.

Overall, we have serious concerns about the gap between increasing expectations and the lack of resources to deliver them. Indeed, these resources are continuing to erode. By 2024, the real value of our Defra grant will be half what is was in 2010. We have made great strides in securing funding from other sources (see below) but we are at the limits of our capacity to deliver more. It is essential to secure grant funding that is maintained at least in real terms over the period of the comprehensive spending review to allow NPAs to meet at least some of our shared aspirations. Of course, AONBs will need a much more significant increase in resources if they are to deliver even a fraction of Defra’s new expectations for them.

Given the importance that the Government attaches to nature recovery and climate change it is disappointing that the response contains no specific proposals for funding Protected Landscapes that would enable them to take the lead on these issues. Working with local partners, the YDNPA has secured significant external investment in nature recovery and climate change mitigation. These currently include the ‘Tees-Swale: Naturally Connected programme; the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership; ‘Grow
Back Greener’ woodland creation programme; the ‘Payment by Results’ ELM Trial; and investments in water quality through the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme.

We are disappointed at the Government’s response on affordable housing. We certainly agree that it is an issue common to all remote rural areas but we can see no merit in simply continuing the current approach through Homes England (HE). The relatively small size of the housing developments we need mean that – without some Government direction or additional incentives – they will never be priorities for HE. In the meantime, the absence of affordable housing remains the single most important issue raised by young people here. This national park continues to see a haemorrhaging of available housing: lost to second homes and holiday lets. This matter dominates all others in terms of impact on housing.

We welcome the new National Landscape Partnership as a stronger voice for Protected Landscapes on the national stage. There is an opportunity to set national targets that can help deliver ambition through clear and consistent monitoring and reporting. We already have highly developed relationships with our local AONBs and welcome the opportunity for greater collaboration with the wider AONB family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Picture of Mark Sadler

Mark Sadler

Mark is the Communications Manager with the YDNPA.

Website: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

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