|National Scenic Areas REVIEW|
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) consultation paper on the National Scenic Areas Review. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows with direct experience of conservation and development issues.
In view of the recent review of National Parks it is now timely to review National Scenic Areas (NSAs), as the two designations are closely linked. While the NSA designation is a valuable one and should be retained, it has hitherto suffered from a number of weaknesses and certainly requires strengthening with a stronger public presence and clearer working rules.
In this context there needs to be greater clarity on the respective roles of the local authorities and SNH in the control, organisation and care of NSAs. SNH needs to establish its control of NSAs, and its command over the local Authority Planning Committees in scenic matters. This requires a tightly knit management structure with clearly defined lines of communication. This issue is of considerable concern and unless the roles of the parties are clearly stated there will be friction and misunderstanding, and it will negatively impact upon the care and well being of the NSAs.
The specific issues identified in the consultation document are addressed below:
(1) The role of the local authority as champion for individual NSAs and the future role for SNH. (para. 3.3)
Given the intimate linkage between the NSA concept and local authority planning policies, it is essential that local authorities have a leading role in operating the NSA system in practice. However, one of the main reasons why the NSA designation previously was fairly ineffective was that the controls were not strict enough, and therefore the proposal for SNH to manage change by influence rather than strict control is at variance with this. Many local authorities have little environmental expertise and therefore the role of driver for this national designation should lie with SNH, with SNH keeping tight control to maintain the integrity of the system and to ensure that standards of management are maintained.
(2) The need for a new legislative base, and the proposed duty to be placed on public bodies. (para. 3.5)
The RSE endorses the need for a strong, clear legislative framework to enshrine the function of NSAs and to define clear duties and responsibilities on public bodies and planning authorities.
(3) The proposed statutory requirement to produce, implement and review an NSA Management Strategy, and the provisions which this should include. (para. 3.7)
Local authorities should be given the statutory duty to produce and implement Management Strategies, and local authorities should be obliged to consult widely in their preparation. It will probably be necessary for many authorities to subcontract outside expertise, and therefore extra funding, or funding cover, will be necessary for some authorities to meet these significant new demands. In practice it may be better for the planning authority to prepare a Management Strategy as part of its structure plan, and while Management Strategies should be reviewed, the interval between reviews should not be too frequent.
(4) The merits of an NSA Management Strategy, its contents, the process for its production, and the requirement for its endorsement or approval by SNH. (para. 3.12)
Management Strategies are central to the concept of NSAs and are essential if progress is to be achieved and public confidence secured. They should set out the objectives of the particular NSA in some detail, explain clearly the provisions for development control, but also set out positive proposals indicating those aspects of land management which are to be encouraged and indicate how they may be supported.
(5) The options identified for promoting the objectives of a NSA, or any other approaches which should be considered. (para. 3.13)
While the onus for promoting this national designation should lie with SNH (who should involve other interested groups in the process) the options for promoting the objectives of the NSAs within local authorities are to be supported. One of the weaknesses in the past has been that NSAs have lacked the necessary steering groups or project officers, and that consequently there has been no sense of 'ownership' by the community or local authority, and no-one was specifically charged with promoting the objectives of the NSA at a local level. Specific decisions as to the type of approach taken should rest with the Local Authorities concerned.
(6) The role and benefits of the consultation and referral mechanism and whether this should be extended or reduced; and if judged necessary, the way in which the scope of the consultation and referral procedure should be modified. (para. 3.16)
Consultation and referral mechanisms should be retained and extended in order to avoid potentially damaging operations 'slipping through the net', and in order to increase the public acceptability of NSAs.
(7) Whether there is a need to remove permitted development rights from further types of development within an NSA and, if so, the types of development. (para. 3.18)
The RSE believes that, if the NSA designation is to have sufficient weight, permitted development rights should be further restricted as suggested, as well as for developments such as wind farms.
(8) The need or otherwise to strengthen controls over land uses falling outwith the planning system. (para. 3.20)
Controls of land uses outwith the planning system do need to be strengthened in NSAs, although proposed changes in European Common Agricultural Policy could overtake some such controls.
(9) What incentives need to be provided to encourage fulfilment of the NSA's objectives, and what opportunities exist to utilise existing mainstream support mechanisms. (para. 3.21)
Economic incentives should be provided for landscape-friendly management, through targeted and prioritised grant mechanisms. There are a number of mainstream support systems, such as management access and footpath agreements and ESAs and, in the particular case of forestry, there is now increasing use of locally specific grants and challenge funds which could be developed further through consultation between local authorities and the Forestry Commission. Greater direction of agri-environmental schemes funded out of agricultural Scottish Office Agriculture Environment and Fisheries Department budgets could also be made.
(10) The need for further policy guidance, and on the content of such guidance. (para. 3.24)
There is a clear need for further policy guidance along the lines set out, particularly over the responsibilities of local authorities, the content and administration of Management Strategies and on guidance for development policies in areas adjacent to NSAs.
(11) Approaches to increasing the general understanding and awareness of the NSA designation and individual NSAs. (para. 3.25)
A clear, well-defined policy statement, agreed by SNH and local authorities, would be useful in increasing general understanding of NSAs. However, better awareness will come from better care of NSAs being demonstrated, and regular public consultation. More should also be done to make local people and visitors aware of the NSA designation and of individual NSAs, as one of the strands in helping people to a fuller understanding of the environment.
(12) The need for additional funds and their source. (para 3.27)
If management strategies are to be effective, they must be backed by adequate funding as well as bylegislation. Local Authorities will continue to be under pressure to economise on all but the most essential services and so it will be important for the scheme to have a significant element of national funding, with the level of funding related to the level of NSAs within local authorities. Possible sources of funding, in addition to public funds, could be achieved through tourism e.g. through shops attached to visitor centres.
(13) Whether the basis of the NSA should in the future rest primarily on natural beauty, rather than any other basis of choice and, if not, what alternative approach might be preferred. (para. 4.13)
The basis of the NSA should primarily rest on natural beauty, or scenic value, taking into account the varied physical, cultural and ecological components of landscape. Interpretation should be wide enough to incorporate diverse landscapes.
(14) Whether the National Scenic Area designation should remain as a purely accolade designation; or whether it should shift to being an accolade series based on choice from those landscape types for which Scotland is most renowned; or whether a fully representative approach is desirable, including examples of all landscape types, without attribution of value. (para 4.16)
The NSA series should shift to be an accolade series, with the choice of candidate areas aiming to include all that is best in the landscape types for which Scotland is most renowned.
(15) Whether the NSA should adopt a socio-economic purpose into its definition. (para. 4.19)
While account should be taken of socio-economic factors when reaching decisions about the management of the NSAs, socio-economic factors should not be reflected in the statutory definition.
(16) The proposed definition for the NSA. (para. 4.22)
While the proposed definition of NSA is admirable, it is questionable whether outstanding quality can, or should, be ‘enhanced’ as suggested in the first bullet point. The second bullet point also introduces a socio-economic aspects into the definition, which we have argued against above (para. 15).
(17) The appropriateness of the suggested approaches, or any others which could be considered, to the initial search process. (para. 5.4)
A combination of approaches would seem appropriate for the search process. Because of the subjectivness in the recognition of an NSA, and in order to increase the acceptability of NSAs, it is essential to have a broadly based and representative consultation and to make greater use of public preferences in deciding which areas to safeguard. National and international community views will also be important in the consideration of these national scenic areas.
(18) The proposed selection criteria. (para. 5.9)
The proposed selection guidelines are useful, but in a process as subjective as this there can not be very formal selection criteria.
(19) The process of validation. (para. 5.11)
In the process of validation, both a national and a local consultation process should be followed, with formal endorsement by the Scottish Executive or Parliament.
(20) Whether there should be an upper target level for designation. (para. 5.14)
Selection for designation should be based on quality, and not determined by an upper target level.
(21) The comprehensiveness and appropriateness of the suggested principles for defining boundaries. (para. 5.17)
The principles are well reviewed and need to be sufficiently flexible for the reasons set out. The inclusion of a marine area with coastal designation is welcome, as no fewer than 28 NSAs have a significant coastal element and several of them embrace coastal waters adjacent to the land area. The limit of such a landscape is the horizon, and measures to safeguard such areas must include the sea as well as the land. "Heritage Coasts" that have been designated elsewhere in the UK (e.g. Ceredigion) may provide useful precedents on which to build.
(22) The appropriateness of including relatively small 'scenic gems' in the NSA suite. (para. 5.18)
The appropriateness of including ‘scenic gems’ can only be established by testing in individual cases and, while there should not be a ban, in many cases small ‘scenic gems’ might best be dealt with by other designations, such as well-defined local designations or national monuments.
(23) Whether NSAs should be limited in their upper size through the strong application of criteria of integrity and merit. (para. 5.19)
NSAs should not be limited to an arbitrary upper size limit as size should be determined according to the selection criteria and landscape diversity. Intrinsic merit and integrity, however, should not be lost sight of, and, where possible, boundaries should relate to local authority borders. There is, however, no reason why two or more NSAs should not be contiguous.
(24) Whether NSAs should be de-designated where they fall within National Parks and, if so, whether the proposals for safeguarding and enhancing the qualities for which the former NSA had been identified are appropriate. (para. 6.5)
NSAs are an important designation within a National Park which can have a supportive role as part of the conservation management of the heritage, and also prove helpful in developing a planning and management framework. Equally, SSSIs and Nature Reserves are important in their own right as part of the National Park. It should be made clear, however, that within a National Park, management and control over the NSA should rest with the National Park’s specialised local planning authority, taking into account, however, the NSA designation with its focus on scenic value.
(25) The role of NSAs as a complementary mechanism to National Parks, and their appropriateness for this task. (para. 6.8)
In many parts of Scotland, a strengthened NSA system ought to be strong enough to form an important and complementary mechanism to National Parks, but in some areas there will be the need to bring together scenic and nature conservation interests under a National Park designation.
(26) The need for a regional or local scenic designation, especially in the light of the evolving experience of landscape character assessments; and the need for management support, beyond planning policies, to local scenic designations, and how this might be done. (para. 6.15)
Local designation should continue, as it would allow areas of countryside to be protected, which though not important nationally, may be considered so at a local level. Where appropriate, planning policies for such areas should include presumptions against development which would detract from their character, and they should be explicit in terms of the objectives to be achieved and the types of management support that might be available.
(27) The need (or otherwise) for greater consistency of approach towards regional or local scenic designations, and on how this might best be achieved, whilst still allowing the flexibility needed to cater for local circumstances. (para. 6.16)
Commonality in approach and terminology is needed. Once achieved it will secure wider recognition of the designation, and will imply that it is part of a nation-wide series. Clear guidance from SNH on its implementation should help, while allowing for flexibility in catering for local needs.
(28) The need for a hierarchy of scenic designations, on the number and level of tiers below the national designation, and on how policy should differentiate between the tiers in terms of status and standard of care. (para. 6.18)
Any hierarchy of designations should be kept simple, and if NSAs are the national level designation, we only need one tier of local designation below.
(29) Whether AGLV is the most appropriate term to use for a sub-national scenic designation in the future. (para. 6.19)
Although it will not produce a consistent hierarchy, the term AGLV should be retained as it is widely employed and satisfactorily indicates the meaning of the designation.
Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands