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Devon objects to plans for moors

Friday, June 11th, 2021 2:03pm

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Sheeps Tor, near Plymouth (BBC Spotlight)

National Parks could be reorganised

Any proposals to remove local responsibility for Dartmoor and Exmoor will be strongly opposed in Devon, the leader of the county council has declared.

There has been considerable speculation that the government is planning to centralise the management of Britain’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty in a new National Landscape Service.

But Cllr John Hart, Devon County Council’s leader, has written to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural Affairs, George Eustace, and Devon’s MPs urging them to keep the management local.

Cllr Hart sent the letter on behalf of Team Devon, the organisation representing the county council as well as district, town and parish councils, saying he was alarmed and had grave concerns about the potential impact that this might have.

However, Devon County Council’s cabinet meeting has recommended to full council that while any merger of the functions of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty would be strongly opposed, there remains a case for a National Landscape service bringing together and strengthening existing national support and protection.

Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, who had put forward his motion on saving the National Parks, said that doing so would be seen as a coded signal that Devon does support this and the admissions would undermine the efforts being made.

In the letter, Cllr Hart said: “All Devon’s local authorities were alarmed to read media reports referring to the consideration being given to the possible role and structure of a new National Landscape Service.

“We share grave concerns about the potential impact that this might have on the management of Devon’s unique series of nationally protected landscapes.

“The Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park Authorities, together with our five areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) are instrumental in conserving, enhancing and promoting Devon’s natural environment and the social and economic benefits that they provide.

“The localised management of each of those areas is critical to their success and we would strongly oppose any centralised merger of their functions.

“When the Government responds to the 2019 Landscapes Review, I hope that you can urge it to make a positive contribution to the ability of National Parks and AONBs to continue their important work and retain their autonomy.”

But he said that a National Landscape Service which brings together and strengthens existing national support for landscape conservation and the protection of the natural environment could be of great benefit and that it could also provide a strong national voice for all protected landscapes.

“Such increased national support, coupled with local autonomy in governance and operation, provides the most effective model to improve upon the fantastic work which is already led and managed in Devon,” Cllr Hart added.

Cllr Connett’s initial motion had called for Devon County Council to urge Government not to proceed with a National Landscape Service or to take any step which will remove local engagement and involvement in our precious national parks and Council instructs the Chief Executive to write urgently to the Prime Minister and local Members of Parliament serving Devon and Somerset setting out our support for our local National Parks.

But Cllr Hart’s recommendation from the cabinet was for the Council to note that they had already indicated to Government and local MPs that any merger of the functions of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty would be strongly opposed, but there remains a case for a National Landscape service bringing together and strengthening existing national support and protection of our natural environment and providing a strong national voice for all protected landscapes.

Cllr James McInnes, deputy leader of the council and also a member of the Dartmoor National Park Authority, added: “We accept some form of National Landscape Service. There needs to be cohesion between national parks and how they speak to the government, and that’s why we have written the response we have, as we do think there is some way to make national parks cohesive on the national stage which at the moment they are not.”

But Cllr Connett pleaded with them to remove the second part of their recommendation, saying: “I understand the first part but am hugely disappointed by the second part. The admission the county thinks that may undermine the efforts to protect Dartmoor and Exmoor and undermines the responses that have been sent

“You should remove the sentence about the National Landscape Service as this shoots us in the foot in the stance to defend Dartmoor National Park. It will be seen as a coded signal that Devon does support this which I don’t think Devon does and I don’t. It will draw support away from National Park authorities and will be the thin end of the wedge.

“I can live with the first part, but I cannot with the second, and so if you don’t withdraw it, I will move an amendment at full council.”

A final decision on the response to the motion will be taken when Devon County Council’s full council meets on 22 July.

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