Why do we need the National Park when we have Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)?

A NP brings together in one organisation responsibilities for conserving and enhancing the environment and heritage; promoting enjoyment, recreation and well-being; and fostering the economic and social wellbeing of its communities. AONBs have one statutory duty, to conserve and enhance natural beauty; any role and funding to promote recreation and enjoyment are at the discretion of the local authorities.


A National Park is a specialised local authority and is the planning authority for its area. The Dorset & E Devon National Park would therefore have responsibility for planning within its own area. In consultation with any Unitary Authority established as a result of local government reorganisation, the National Park Authority (NPA) would develop the planning framework and policies for its area. There would be no duplication and the NPA and Unitary would work together.The AONB Team or Partnership is not the planning authority nor a statutory consultee on planning matters. Its engagement on planning is subject to a protocol through which the local authorities consult the AONB team on matters which are likely to have a significant effect on the AONB. This is not a legal agreement and local authorities are not obliged to consult the AONB.


A NP would replace the AONB. Its creation would reduce the number of organisations involved in planning decisions.

National Park Authorities are much better resourced than AONBs. NPAs are core funded by central government grant. AONBs are funded through a combination of central government and local authority funding. An independent study suggests that, based on the close comparator of the South Downs NPA, the Dorset & East Devon National Park would receive around £10 million pa in core funding grant from central government. By comparison, the Dorset and East Devon AONBs together receive [as at 2016] some £410 thousand from a combination of DEFRA and local authorities.


Both NPs and AONBs work effectively with partners to bid for and secure additional external funds for specific projects. But AONBs have to compete with much better resourced NPs.



Where will the National Park be?

Click the image below for more information.

Dorset National Park Proposed Area

What is the Process for Designating a possible Dorset National Park?

The Government-appointed Glover Review on Designated Landscapes (such as National Parks and AONBs) reported in September 2019. It recognised Dorset as an outstanding candidate for National Park status and recommended that Natural England and government Ministers consider the case for a Dorset National Park, alongside proposals for the Cotswolds and the Chilterns.


The Government, in its election manifesto, made a commitment to create new National Parks. It said:


We welcome the Glover Review and will create new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as making our most loved landscapes greener, happier, healthier and open to all.


The Cabinet of the Dorset Council decided in November to await the Government’s response to the Glover Review before considering the question further.


Natural England [NE] is the relevant Government agency tasked with making recommendations on possible new designated areas. It had aimed to conduct an assessment of the proposal for a Dorset & East Devon National Park in late 2018, but the Glover review intervened. NE has said it will resume its evaluation of the proposals for new designated areas when resources allow.


The evaluation will be based on NE’s published criteria and guidance for assessing landscapes for National Park designation. NE will want to consider how much of the area may meet their designation criteria. As part of the evaluation process, NE will consult and engage with councils, communities, a wide range of stakeholders and the general public.


Following their assessment and consultations, NE will make a recommendation to Ministers. Ministers may decide to hold a public inquiry chaired by a member of the Planning Inspectorate or afford other ways to allow people to express further views. The final decision is made by Ministers.


Depending on when the evaluation by Natural England commences, the process is likely to take around 3 to 4 years. This was the time taken to confirm the New Forest National Park designation. The South Downs took longer as areas outside that first recommended by Natural England pressed for inclusion, and so a second public inquiry was needed.


Who runs the National Park?

A National Park is a specialised local authority. Though funded by central Government grant, it is not run by central government.

The governing body is the National Park Authority, made up of local people who run the National Park in a transparent way. For example, the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has 27 Members, comprising:

  • 14 Councillors from County and District Authorities

  • 6 Councillors from Town and Parish Councils

  • 7 Members appointed by the Secretary of State from local applicants with relevant expertise and interests, following open competition and interview.

The members of a National Park Authority are appointed to represent the National Park area as a whole and not their appointing body or local base.
The fact that 25% of NPA members are drawn from Parish and Town Councils increases local community involvement at a grassroots level. 

The total number of members of a Dorset NPA would be for discussion and agreement. 





Why aren’t the members of a National Park Authority directly elected by local people?

75% of NPA members are local councillors, appointed to the NPA by the local authorities for the NP area, and a third of these are parish and town councillors. The remaining 25% of NPA members are appointed by the Minister from local people who are put forward as candidates. Ministers often appoint people who are local experts in a relevant field like heritage, access or farming/land management.


There are good reasons why successive governments have retained this approach to NPA membership. A NPA has responsibility to conserve and enhance the landscape and cultural heritage, promote enjoyment and understanding of the area’s special qualities, and foster the economic and social wellbeing of its communities. A NPA is the planning authority for its area, but its partner local authorities continue to deliver other functions such as education, social services, highways, waste management [though the SDNPA, for example, supports partner authorities’ work in planning, schools, health and wellbeing, and other local services like rural transport, with NP funding and expertise.]


As the NPA and its partner authorities are working for the same communities and the same area, it’s important they have a shared understanding and vision, and work hand in hand. That’s why it makes sense for the local councillors on the NP Authority to have been elected as councillors for the area – councillors who can bring a wide range of experience and knowledge, have an interest in the National Park and its work and want to serve on the NPA.


In Dorset, 50% of the members of the NPA would be councillors who have been elected to the new “Dorset Council” [the “shire” Unitary Council] and are appointed to the NPA by the Unitary, and 25% would be councillors appointed from Town and Parish Councils – together making 75% of the NPA.


The fact that 25% of NPA members are drawn from Parish and Town Councils increases local community involvement at a grassroots level.