24 March 2017
Article by Dr Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
A debate is due to be held in Plenary on 28 March 2017 on the review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This blog post outlines the 2015 review of designated landscapes and the emerging work in determining the future role and vision for Welsh landscapes.
Designated Landscapes in Wales
Nationally important landscapes in England and Wales are designated as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
Designated Landscapes cover around 25% of Wales. Wales is home to 4 AONB’s (Anglesey, Clwydian Range & Dee Valley, Llyn Peninsula and Gower – additionally the Wye Valley AONB spans England and Wales) and 3 National Parks (Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia). In 1952 Pembrokeshire Coast National Park was designated as the first coastal National Park in the UK, and in 1956 the Gower was designated as the first AONB in the UK.
The current management and purpose of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Currently, National Parks in Wales are managed by National Park Authorities (NPAs) which are the statutory planning authority. These nationally important landscapes have protection through planning law. National Parks 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’.
AONBs are areas designated for the purpose of conserving and enhancing their natural beauty and differ from National Parks in that they lack the statutory purpose to promote opportunities for the public to enjoy and understand the area. 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, for an AONB this will be done by the relevant local planning authority.
Review of Designated Landscapes
In 2014, the then Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant commissioned a group of experts (Professor Terry Marsden, John Lloyd-Jones and Dr Ruth Williams) to undertake a Review of Designated Landscapes. 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. The purpose of the review was to ‘ensure that our designated landscapes are best equipped to meet current and future challenges while building on their internationally recognised status’. Changes considered included whether there should be a move towards a single designation.
Key recommendations of the Review of Designated Landscapes (2015) to the Welsh Government include:
- There should not be a single designation so that both the AONB and National Park designation is retained in future;
- The names of “National Parks” and “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty” should be retained and collectively referred to as the “National Landscapes of Wales”;
- There should be three interlocking statutory purposes for both the National Parks and AONBs; these are:
- To conserve and enhance the distinctive landscape and seascape qualities of the area (the Conservation Purpose);
- To promote physical and mental well-being through the enjoyment and understanding of the landscape of the area (the Human Well-being Purpose); and
- To promote sustainable forms of economic and community development based on the management of natural resources and the cultural heritage of the area (the Sustainable Resource Management Purpose)
- There should be a new single Statutory Duty; ‘to contribute to the delivery of the three purposes of the National Landscapes’;
- The Sandford Principle, confirming the primacy of the conservation purpose, should be applied across all the designated landscapes; and
- The National Assembly for Wales, as it evolves its own internal architecture, should consider the relationship between itself and the National Landscapes of Wales to maximise scrutiny and accountability.
Previous blog posts further outline the review and the emergent recommendations; A Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales: National Parks and AONBs, Review of Designated Landscapes: Recommendations from Stage 1 and What next for National Landscapes in Wales?.
Following the review, the Future Landscapes Working Group was set up by the Minister for Natural Resources. Led by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, the group involves representatives of the National Parks, AONBs, environmental groups, business and local government to explore the recommendations. Furthermore, it would allow consideration of these recommendations in the context of new legislation; the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 (which were enacted subsequent to the review).
The Terms of Reference (PDF 195.4KB) for the Future Landscapes Working Group sets out the membership and the group’s plan to advise on the themes from the review. The report, which is due to be published imminently, is expected to describe the future role and vision of designated landscapes in Wales. In an interim letter (PDF 62.6KB) to the then Minister in May 2016 prior to the Assembly elections, the Chair stated ‘It is clear that new ways of working will need to be adopted.’