Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for National Parks (GIB 20)

Summary

Our main concerns relate to clause 7 which will remove some of the special protection afforded to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in recognition of their natural beauty. This risks undermining the legislation which established these protected areas in the first place and we believe this clause should be removed from the Bill. Failure to do so will set a dangerous precedent. The proposal is also inconsistent with other recent g overnment policy statements, including the National Planning Policy Framework.

We recognise the importance of providing faster broadband in rural areas but believe that this is best done in a planned and co-ordinated way which takes account of the special status of all designated landscapes. There is no evidence that the additional protection afforded designated landscapes has delayed the roll-out of broadband. In fact National Park Authorities are taking a proactive approach to facilitating broadband delivery in a way which minimises the visual impacts. The real barrier to broadband roll-out is the absence of state-aid clearance from the EU.

Introduction

1. The Campaign for National Parks is the independent national voice for the 13 National Parks in England and Wales. Our mission is to inspire everyone to enjoy and look after National Parks – the nation’s green treasures.

2. National Parks are our finest landscapes with the highest level of protection. Their statutory purposes are to conserve and enhance wildlife, cultural heritage and natural beauty, and to promote opportunities for public enjoyment and understanding of their special qualities. For over 75 years the Campaign for National Parks has been working to ensure that our National Parks are beautiful, inspirational places that are relevant, valued and protected for all.

3. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill (the Bill) includes proposals with significant implications for National Parks in both England and Wales and the Broads (collectively described as National Parks in this evidence).

4. The Campaign for National Parks has particular concerns about clause 7 which seeks to remove some of the special protection afforded to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in recognition of their natural beauty and thereby risks undermining the legislation which established these protected areas in the first place. This could set a dangerous precedent. We understand that the Government will be consulting shortly on the proposals relating to broadband infrastructure in National Parks and AONBs but we are concerned that such a fundamental change was introduced without any prior consultation.

Duty to have regard to National Park purposes

5. National Parks are our finest landscapes with the highest level of protection. Their statutory purposes are to conserve and enhance wildlife, cultural heritage and natural beauty, and to promote opportunities for public enjoyment and understanding of their special qualities. In pursuing these purposes, National Park Authorities (NPAs) also have a statutory duty to foster the economic and social well-being of communities living within the National Park.

6. These purposes where established in the 1949 Act and are just as relevant today. Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995 created a duty to have regard to National Park purposes which applies to relevant authorities when undertaking activities which affect land in a National Park. This duty currently applies to Government Ministers, public bodies, statutory undertakers and any person holding public office. Providing exemptions to this duty, even if only for one Secretary of State and for one specific purpose, will result in increased pressure for the duty to be removed for other purposes and for others to whom it applies.

Delivering broadband in National Parks

7. The Campaign for National Parks recognises the importance of providing faster broadband in rural areas but believes that this is best done in a planned and co-ordinated way which takes account of the special status of all designated landscapes. We are concerned that the proposals in clause 7 could have a negative impact on economic growth if they lead to a proliferation of radio masts and other intrusive telecommunications infrastructure in National Parks. The local economy in many National Parks relies heavily on tourism and many visitors are specifically attracted by the wildness and beauty of these areas.

8. There is no evidence that the additional protection afforded designated landscapes has acted as a barrier to rural growth or delayed the roll-out of broadband. In fact there are good examples of NPAs working with telecommunications providers and other stakeholders to ensure that broadband and mobile phone coverage is improved with as little visual impact on National Parks as possible. Examples include:

a. In Northumberland, the NPA has worked with their Local Enterprise Partnership to gain £1million for a Rural Growth Hub in the National Park. This includes delivering high speed broadband to three large estates (one of which is due to be a pilot for high speed satellite broadband). The NPA has also worked with Northumberland County Council to secure £1million from the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) which will deliver improvements to 3000 premises.

b. In the Peak District National Park, some mobile phone operators have discussed their roll-out plans with the NPA and third parties prior to submitting an application. This has made it possible to avoid citing masts in the most damaging locations in wild corridors (e.g. A57 Snake Pass) or to design them in a way which minimises their visual impact. Examples include a telegraph pole design, a road sign using the mast as its support post, and a natural stone cabin with a small roof-based antennae.

c. In Exmoor National Park, the NPA has set up the Superfast Exmoor project with funding from the RCBF. This aims to get as many communities and households in the area as possible served by fibre optic broadband but also involves exploring a range of broadband options, including wireless and satellite.

d. Both South Downs and New Forest NPAs are members of the Rural Economy Action Group of the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership that has secured Growing Places funding to pilot broadband proposals for local businesses. The New Forest NPA is also working with several parishes to assist them in a bid to the RCBF and the South Downs NPA has supported bids by Hampshire County Council and West Sussex County Council to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

e. The North Yorks Moors NPA has recently granted approval for two separate masts for broadband delivery in sensitive locations with only minimal planning interventions to achieve improvements in design. These included improvements to the number and appearance of solar cells used to supply power and modifications to ensure that the mast was not used by birds of prey.

9. It is essential that a planned and co-ordinated approach can be used to deliver future telecommunications networks in National Parks and AONBs. This will ensure that the amount of infrastructure required can be minimised (for example, by considering whether there are opportunities to share masts) and placed in the most appropriate location. However, this will only happen if the Secretary of State continues to have a duty to have regard to the special status of National Parks in connection with the Electronic Communications Code.

10. The fact that the exemption would be granted for a limited period (until 2018) also means that developers will rush to deliver the cheapest, fastest solutions rather than working with NPAs and others to deliver well designed solutions which are appropriate to designated landscapes.

Consistency with other relevant policy

11. Introducing the exemption from the duty to have regard to National Park purposes as set out in clause 7 is inconsistent with other recent Government policy. In November 2011, the Government published a consultation on overhead telecommunications lines [1] which clearly stated that ‘National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), conservation areas, areas of special scientific interest (SSSIs), the Broads and World Heritage Sites will require planning permission, as is currently the case.’ (paragraph 3.5)

12. National Planning Policy in both England and Wales emphasises the extra protection afforded to National Parks in planning policies and decisions. The National Planning Policy Framework for England [2] , published in March 2012, states that ‘Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations in all these areas, and should be given great weight in National Parks and the Broads.’ (paragraph 115)

13. Similarly, Planning Policy Wales [3] says that: ‘In National Parks and AONBs, development plan policies and development management decisions should give great weight to conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of these areas.’ (paragraph 5.3.6)

The protection of all types of designated areas is equally important

14. Approval will still be required to install telecommunications infrastructure in SSSIs. National Park, AONB and SSSI designations were all introduced through the 1949 Act. Whilst the reasons for designating SSSIs are different from those for designating National Parks and AONBs, what led to the creation of all three was the recognition that the special qualities of some areas of land are so important that they need to be conserved and enhanced for future generations.

15. There are certain areas where a more careful assessment will always be required in order to determine the appropriateness of installing new infrastructure as the exclusion of SSSIs from the proposed changes demonstrates. National Parks and AONBs should continue to be afforded the same protection as SSSIs.

State-aid clearance and broadband roll-out

16. The real barrier to broadband roll-out is the absence of state-aid clearance from the European Union (EU). In 2010, Northumberland NPA was allocated £220,000 from the LEADER fund to address a lack of broadband in Northumberland Uplands but had to abandon the project after a two year delay in getting state aid approval from the EU.

17. The UK does not yet have permission to spend the £530million the Government has currently allocated to broadband [4] . It has recently been reported [5] that half of the 47 Local Broadband Plans (LBP), which are intended to help 90% of UK people gain access to a superfast broadband service by March 2015 are being held up by these competition concerns. A speedy resolution to this issue would do more to remove the barriers to broadband development than further changes to the planning system which will not address the key issues stalling development.

November 2012


[1] Department of Culture, Media and Sports, November 2011, Relaxing the restrictions on the deployment of overhead telecommunications lines ( http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/consultations/condoc_restrictions-telecoms-lines-NOV2011.pdf )

[2] Department for Communities and Local Government, March 2012, National Planning Policy Framework ( http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/2116950.pdf )

[3] http://wales.gov.uk/topics/planning/policy/ppw/?lang=en

[4] http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2012/10/eu-requests-minor-changes-for-broadband-delivery-uk-state-aid-clearance.html

[5] http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2012/11/uk-culture-secretary-tackles-eu-over-delayed-broadband-approvals.html

Prepared 21st November 2012