A Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales: National Parks and AONBs

17 October 2014

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire

Image from Flickr by David Evans. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Last week the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, announced the commencement of a review of designated landscapes in Wales.

National Parks

There are three National Parks in Wales:

National Parks, designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, were created to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes. Section 5 of the Act places a duty on Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to designate any ‘extensive tracts of country’ in Wales with pronounced natural beauty and opportunities for open recreation as a National Park.

All National Parks in Wales are managed by National Park Authorities (NPAs). In Wales, under Section 5(1) of the Act NPAs have two statutory purposes:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of their areas; and
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of their areas to the public.

Where conflict arises between these two statutory purposes the NPA shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area under the ‘Sandford Principle’.

NPAs are made up of a committee of members that are appointed from local authorities and by the Welsh Government. The majority of a NPA’s membership is made up of elected members from the local authorities that are within the boundaries of the National Park. The Welsh Government provides each NPA with grant funding.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Designated landscapes also include Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) of which there are five in Wales:

AONBs are different from National Parks in that they lack the statutory purpose to promote opportunities for the public to enjoy and understand the area.

The power to designate AONBs was originally contained in the Natural Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 but was modified by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Under Section 82 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, NRW can designate any area in Wales (which is not a National Park) as an AONB if the area is of such outstanding natural beauty that it should be conserved and enhanced.

AONB partnerships exist in all AONBs which are led by local authorities with officers that oversee the management of activities. Management of AONBs is also supported by committees of stakeholders such as landowners, statutory agencies and community councils.

An AONB designation has the same status in planning as a National Park but while a National Park may carry out its own planning functions this will be done by the relevant local planning authority for an AONB.

Review

In launching the review the Minister highlighted its timeliness considering that the statutory purposes of National Parks and AONBs were originally set out in legislation that is almost 70 years old. He stated that the review was necessary to comply with economic, environmental and social developments. He said that:

I would like to see our designated landscapes become international exemplars of sustainability, living landscapes with vibrant, resilient rural communities, extensive outdoor recreational opportunities, thriving ecosystems and rich biodiversity.

The review will be undertaken by an independent panel chaired by Professor Terry Marsden of Cardiff University. The review will have two stages:

  1. To examine the designations themselves looking at the purpose of these landscapes and the merits of classifying Wales’ designated landscapes under one type designation.
  2. To review governance and management arrangements of designated landscapes. This includes considering the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery’s recommendations; for National Parks to appraise and better understand whether the designations, purposes, management arrangements and governments of designated landscapes are best placed to meet present and future challenges. It will take account of the Planning (Wales) Bill in respect of the future arrangements for planning in National Parks.

The review panel will now start gathering evidence from stakeholders, communities within designated landscapes and the general public.

For further information on designated landscapes see our Quick Guide on National Parks and AONBs in Wales.