Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report



APPENDIX 8

Memorandum from the Council for National Parks

  The Council for National Parks (CNP) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry into the comprehensive spending review. CNP is the national charity that works to protect and enhance the National Parks of England and Wales and areas that merit National Park status, and promote understanding and quiet enjoyment of them for the benefit of all.

STATUTORY BASIS OF NATIONAL PARK DESIGNATION

  National Parks were established by the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. The 1995 Environment Act created independent National Park Authorities and also revised National Park purposes to:

    —  promote and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Parks of England and Wales.

    —  promote opportunities for public understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities.

  Section 62 of the 1995 Environment Act also placed a duty on public bodies, statutory undertakers and government departments to have regard to National Park purposes when making decisions relating to the Parks. CNP hopes that the Environmental Audit Committee will ensure that all bodies to which the section 62 duty applies will reflect how this duty is being carried out in relation to their spending allocations. CNP suggests that this reporting is made mandatory in relevant bodies' annual reports, as this would be a good place to make links with annual finances.

FUNDING OF NATIONAL PARKS

  This year the Minister for the Environment in England (the Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP) has announced a 7.8 per cent. increase in National Park grant for the English National Park Authorities, together with a set-aside sum of some £500,000 giving an overall 10 per cent. increase. This enhanced level of funding has been set for the full three-year programme together with an allowance for inflation in years 2 and 3. It is to be welcomed.

  The total budget for the three Welsh National Parks, which cover 20 per cent. of the land area of Wales in the current financial year represents just 0.1 per cent. of the total Welsh budget. In terms of best value, studies have indicated that National Park funding has achieved a good degree of levering in other funds. For example, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park National Trail survey results demonstrated a return to the Pembrokeshire economy of £57 for every £1 spent by the National Park on the trail, in addition to the support of 550 jobs.

  Over the years the core resource base of the three Welsh National Parks has barely kept up with their English counterparts, although they have the same statutory duties and responsibilities and have been responsible for providing the same range of services and indeed often assuming a "larger" role because of their Welsh context. They also need to comply with the requirements of the 1993 Welsh Language Act.

  CNP believes funding levels for National Parks in England and Wales ought to be on a consistent basis. This will be an important test of the Government's commitment to putting the environment at the heart of its decision and policy making on the allocation of public spending.

  Investment in National Parks not only secures the best of our landscape and cultural heritage it satisfies national and international obligations in an increasingly environmentally conscious world.

  An important recommendation of the National Parks Review Panel was that in order to implement the other recommendations of the Review Panel National Parks would require an additional £8-10 million above the projected total annual expenditure. This would mean current funding for example for Welsh National Parks of £13.5 million (which would be approximately 0.18 per cent. of the total Welsh budget) when in fact it is only £8.7 million (baseline for 1999-2000).

  Adequate core costs are essential if resources are not to be diverted away from statutory functions relating to landscape, cultural heritage, biodiversity and public rights of way and to enable National Park Authorities to match fund other sources of grant aid. Funds should also be available to support new projects and initiatives relating to Government priorities, for example, initiatives arising out of Transporting Wales into the Future and A New Deal for Transport.

GOOD ENVIRONMENT, GOOD HEALTH

  Funding of National Parks is linked to their ability to deliver their statutory objectives, which is linked to the Government's objectives for sustainable development. The Committee may therefore like to consider using this as an indicator of how far the Government has gone in taking account of sustainable development in reviewing public expenditure allocations. National Park Authorities have a very important role to play in linking healthy environments with the good health of people and rural communities. This is recognised in Pathway to Prosperity (a new economic agenda for Wales, Welsh Office 1998) which states that "the quality of the environment has a profound effect on the quality of people's lives".

  The link between a healthy and attractive environment and economic prosperity can be seen in many instances in National Parks. Circular 12/96 emphasises the economic benefits that National Park designation can bring to local communities, particularly through visitor spending and local employment. For example, paragraph 22 states "tourism may result in significant benefits in terms of local purchasing and employment and is also supported by the National Park Authority through the operations of its visitor services; areas within the Parks qualify for funding under Objective 5b and the Rural Development Programme; and farmers and landowners receive assistance from the Park Authorities in their stewardship of land within the Parks".

  Spending by visitors is an important component of the local economy of National Parks. CNP draws the Committee's attention to the findings of the report on Visitors to National Parks (Countryside Commission and Countryside Council for Wales, 1996, CCP 503) on visitor spending. For example, nearly nine out of 10 visitors (88 per cent.) spent money during their visit to the Parks, with a daily average expenditure of £9.70 per person (excluding accommodation costs). For example, the value of bookings to local communities at St Davids and Newport in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park from sales through a bed booking service is £6,771 and £653 respectively.

  This points to the conclusion that National Parks are not only natural assets that need to be conserved and enhanced but are also important income generators in the rural economy.

ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY FRAMEWORK

  CNP believes it is essential for the Government to ensure a robust environmental policy framework is adequately funded. This is especially important in relation to planning, environment and agriculture. It is of course important not only for National Park Authorities but also for statutory bodies such as the Countryside Council for Wales, the Countryside Commission and the relevant Government departments (planning and environment divisions of the Welsh office and relevant parts of the National Assembly for Wales and DETR and MAFF) to be adequately funded.

  As well as ensuring that the stewardship of the high quality environment of Britain continues undiminished, adequate funding of the environmental policy framework would also bring economic benefits as highlighted in the economic agenda Pathway to Prosperity and in Circular 12/96. In its advice to Government Protecting our Finest Countryside CCP 532 (1998). The Countryside Commission "considers that the necessary core funding for the management of protected countryside should be found from the public purse".

SCOPE FOR BETTER USE OF AGRI-ENVIRONMENT SCHEMES

  The findings of the Protected Areas Funding Study indicate the need for additional spending on agri-environment schemes in protected areas, to raise over a period of 10 years the environmental quality of agricultural land to a standard consistent with the basis of designation. This is also reported in the Countryside Commission's advice to Government Protecting our Finest Countryside. CNP believes that adequate funding of agri-environment schemes is essential to the fulfilment of National Park purposes. A well-crafted landscape can only be so it if is adequately funded.

  The spending requirements suggested by consultants as part of the Protected Areas Funding Study was £6.7 million in the first year to £60 million per year in the 10th year of a programme for National Parks. This would be in addition to the £16.3 million currently being spent by MAFF on agri-environment schemes and the £6.6 million being spent by National Park Authorities on these activities.

  The study also recommends additional spending of £2.1 million over the next 10 years on a programme to bring all woodlands in National Parks under sound management.

  If agri-environment schemes are poorly funded, there is a danger that the agri-environment elements of the landscape, biodiversity, conservation and the historic environment may suffer as a result. A specific example is that the funding regime for the all Wales agri-environment scheme Tir Gofal has yet to be announced. This will be an important demonstration of how far the Government is going towards taking account of sustainable land management when reviewing public expenditure allocations.

November 1998


 
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