The year ahead is set to be a fascinating one for those of us who are closely watching the development of plans for a new National Park in North East Wales.
Promised in 2021 as part of Welsh Government’s current Programme for Government, the current designation process is set to reach its public consultation phase this autumn; roughly two years since Natural Resources Wales (NRW) assumed responsibility for evaluating the case for designation.
The current ‘area of search’ has been dripping out over recent months through a round of public engagement events organised by NRW. Reaching south over the Berwyn Range and north to the Gronant Dunes, the area has the existing Clywdian Range and Dee Valley National Landscape at its heart with various areas to the east and west such as Hope Mountain and Ruthin asking questions as to their suitability under the designation assessment of ‘natural beauty’ and ‘special qualities’.
There’s still much to be determined as assessments continue, but as the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act turns 75 years old this year, now is the perfect time to test and challenge whether the designation will be fit for purpose in an increasingly fragile world threatened by nature and climate crises.
At Campaign for National Parks we want to see a new National Park which is a true exemplar for biodiversity and climate, and which delivers for both resident communities and visitors alike. To achieve this, we are calling for not only a strong and pioneering designation, but also long-term changes to the way in which National Parks are financed, supported, and governed.
We need to see an increased long-term funding arrangement for all National Parks in Wales as well as modernised governance arrangements and a single planning authority across the newly designated area.
We want to see new duties and powers for National Parks, an emphasis on species recovery, a ban on damaging land management practices such as burning on peatland, improved public transport, rural connectivity, controls on second homes and a targeted agri-environment scheme which supports sustainable farming and local food production.
Crucially, amended purposes should also provide a clear remit to promote nature recovery and increase the opportunities from all parts of society to visit, and enjoy, the newly designated area.
Whilst lots of this won’t be achieved in the short-term, this is a golden opportunity to build on all that is best about the existing National Parks in Wales and it is now incumbent upon Welsh Government to challenge some of the misperceptions and half-truths swirling around the purpose of a new National Park with a vision that can inspire and unite us.
Senior Policy and Projects Officer, Campaign for National Parks