Is a Dorset National Park now more likely?
The Government appointed Glover Review on Designated Landscapes (such as National Parks and AONBs) reported in September 2019. It recognises Dorset as an outstanding candidate for National Park status and recommends that Natural England and government Ministers consider the case for a Dorset National Park, alongside proposals for the Cotswolds and the Chilterns.
Both the Conservative and Labour Party manifestos make commitments to establish new National Parks.
The Conservative Party Manifesto says:
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 Labour Party Manifesto says:
We will create new National Parks alongside a revised system of other protected area designations, which will guard existing wildlife sites and join up important habitats, while also ensuring more people can enjoy living closer to nature.
Dorset is the outstanding candidate for National Park status. It has very special geodiversity (including the World Heritage “Jurassic” Coast), amazing landscape and unique wildlife diversity, “gold standard” cultural heritage and wide-ranging recreational opportunities. A National Park has so much to offer everyone in Dorset as well as the nation.
Dorset also needs a National Park to better safeguard our environment and heritage which continue to be under threat from environmental challenges and inappropriate development. Only 39% of our flagship SSSIs are in a favourable condition compared with 47% in the South Downs National Park. “The fact that many of these highly protected sites are in unfavourable condition suggests we should be concerned about the condition of the rest of our ‘ordinary’ environment and countryside which enjoys no such protection.” (Natural Value report, Dorset Local Nature Partnership).
The Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Management Plan suggests that the condition of some 60% of the AONB landscape is “moderate” or “moderate-weak” and only about 20/25% is “good”. In terms of the direction of travel, around 30% is “declining” or “stable/declining” and only about 10% is “improving”. (Map of Landscape Condition P 62.) The AONB concludes that “A step-change in our approach to nature conservation is required to ensure that natural systems are repaired and rebuilt, creating a more resilient natural environment for the benefit of wildlife and ourselves.”
More information on the state of Dorset’s environment is at https://www.dorsetnationalpark.com/post/climate-and-environmental-emergency
The proposed Dorset National Park is that step change. Business as usual is not a viable option as we face a climate and ecological emergency and as many local communities face proposals for development which they consider do not meet the needs of local people.
The Dorset Council Cabinet concluded in November that it will “await the response of Government to the [Glover] Landscapes Review”. The proposal for a Dorset National Park has cross-party support and received support from both Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors at that Cabinet meeting. Many well-regarded national as well as local organisations and individuals support the proposal.
Respected writers and ecologists like David Attenborough remind us that the earth is not ours, but ours to look after. Our planet doesn’t belong to us but is loaned to us by our children and grandchildren. Our responsibility is to care for this precious resource and pass it on to future generations in at least as good a state as we inherited it. This we are failing to do. Our environment and wildlife continue to be degraded and depleted and this has been happening over several decades. There has been damage to habitats, major and measurable reductions in the presence of wildlife in our landscapes, and the loss of some species. Future generations will ask why we allowed this to happen. Through a National Park we now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take action and secure a better future for nature and for our children.
Some Questions Answered
Why not just increase the funding of the Dorset AONB?
The Glover Review suggests that AONBs should have twice as much funding as now (assuming local authorities in turn doubled their funding) and increased responsibilities. A doubling of funds would give the Dorset AONB around £0.5m a year compared with over £10m in central government core grant for the South Downs National Park. The AONB would have to look to the Dorset Council to carry out many of its responsibilities since it would not have the capacity or expertise to do that itself.
Michael Dower, the son of John Dower - whose 1945 report proposed the establishment of National Parks in Britain - while welcoming the work done by the Dorset AONB, has said “I believe that the scale of the challenge of stewardship of this great area demands the more substantial resource of funding and expertise which can be marshalled by a National Park.”
Might a National Park lead to development pressures on adjacent areas?
In planning law AONBs and National Parks have equivalent status. Hence if the Dorset AONB evolved into a National Park there should be no notable difference in how much housing is accommodated in that area or in adjacent areas. Furthermore, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provides that, where an area is shared by a National Park and a neighbouring planning authority, a local methodology may be used for calculating housing need in place of the government’s standard methodology. A National Park therefore offers Dorset the opportunity to reclaim control of planning for the whole of its area.
A fuller answer to this question is at https://www.dorsetnationalpark.com/faq-homes
Would a National Park affect the Dorset Council’s need to develop a Local Plan?
A National Park would not affect the need for the Dorset Council to develop its Local Plan for 2023/24. The Dorset Council would then work in partnership with the National Park to develop an agreed, shared Local Plan for the future. The National Park would pay for much of the development and delivery of this plan by a joint planning team. This would free up Council resources for other priorities across all of Dorset. National Parks are core funded by central Government and so are not a call on local people or businesses and the Government wants them to work beyond their boundaries. A National Park would benefit all of Dorset and be a great national asset.