National Parks for Scotland: a consultation paper

National Parks for Scotland: a consultation paper

National Parks for Scotland: a consultation paper

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Scottish Natural Heritage consultation paper on National Parks for Scotland. 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.
The proposal for National Parks in Scotland is welcome, and accords well with international commitments entered into at UNCED in 1992 and then elaborated upon at the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of European Forestry at Helsinki in 1993 and at Lisbon in 1998. We also welcome the suggestion that full account should be taken of experience and practice in the rest of the UK, and regular dialogue between those involved in the planning and management of all UK National Parks will be essential.

The specific issues identified in the consultation document are addressed below:

1. The purposes of National Parks (paras 3-2 to 3-4)

The purpose of national parks must be primarily to conserve and enhance the natural systems and scenic beauty of the area. Although included in the statement of purposes, it would be useful if this list was prioritised and the primary purpose of the above clearly stated. An adjusted statement could read:

To conserve and enhance the biodiversity, natural systems, scenic beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage in the area.

To provide the sustainable use of natural resources in so far as this is compatible with (1).

To support the relevant bodies in fostering the social and economic welfare of local communities and to facilitate responsible public enjoyment and understanding in ways which are compatible with the primary purpose of conservation.

2. The duties of National Parks (para 3-5)

The Society agrees with the three duties proposed, but the document should say that the operation of national parks should be to the highest standards. The National Park Plan proposed should also include both long-term objectives, consistent with (3.4 (1)), and those dealing with shorter timescales of around five years, with a review process that is simple and not too time consuming.

3. The criteria for the selection of National Parks (para 3-6)

The Society agrees with the five criteria suggested, but would add the criteria of "recreation or development pressure" for proposed areas, where recreation or development pressure could make national park structures and resources necessary.

4. The objectives of the National Park Plan (paras 3-8 to 3-10)

Paragraph. 3.9 could be clarified by replacing it with the following:

"The Park Plan, while not intended to replace the existing sectoral plans for the area, should include general policies for the planning and management of the area along with the relevant sectoral plans. It would identify those policies which would constitute the Structure Plan. The Park Plan would also include policies which are local in content and suitable for inclusion in the local plan."

Should the objectives of the National Park Plan prove controversial, they could be debated at a Hearing, which would then result in a report with regional objectives being submitted for approval by Parliamentary procedure. Approval would include the Structure Plan and allow for accelerated adoption of the Local Plan.

5. The treatment of development aspirations, visitor management issues and existing designations in the Park Plan (paras 3-11 to 3-17)

The Society would stress that National Parks are not primarily a tool for promoting sustainable rural development. They are firstly about the conservation of the national heritage and scenic beauty. Failure to recognise this will mean that Scottish national parks will not carry out their proper role, and one that is recognised internationally.

Development Aspirations: Recognition of the priority of conservation should be included in this paragraph. The co-ordination and enhancement of ranger services is, however, to be welcomed.
Visitor Management Issues: The significance of this issue is rightly highlighted, but could be further emphasised. The importance of ranger services and other facilities, such as car parking and footpaths, should be stressed more clearly.

Other Designations: The Society believes that the system of designations should not be different within and outwith National Parks. Existing designations, such as SSSIs and NSA and European designations (Natura 2000/SPA), are all potentially valuable designations highlighting the heritage value of the area. These designations should all continue and be used as positive elements in the Park Plan.

6. The mechanisms for ensuring that the functions, powers, politics and activities of Government departments, public bodies and local authorities contribute to the implementation of the National Park Plan (para 3-19)

The Society applauds the partnership approach to the Park Plan. The statement on the support for bodies to use existing powers to implement policies set out in the National Park Plan should be further clarified, by adding "where these powers have not been transferred or delegated to the National Park".

7. The mechanisms for ensuring that the activities of private owners and managers of land contribute to the implementation of the National Park Plan (para 3-20)

At present the question posed refers only to private land owners. These provisions should be extended to all classes of landowners, whether public or private.

8. Changes to national policy needed to achieve National Park purposes (para 3-21)

It is sensible to use grant aid provision to encourage good land management which supports the conservation of objectives of the Park. The proposal in para. 3.20 would provide a good basis if extended to all types of owners. Forest management in Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms, as elsewhere, pursues sustainable forestry management with the delivery of a range of public benefits, including valuable recreation provision (UK Forestry Standard).

There is a need to create more effective powers and management regimes to regulate recreational activities to create well managed public enjoyment which does not damage the resource. This section should be amended to take account of the following:

Better arrangements are needed for recreational access and management agreements for open water. Better support is also required for footpath access and management agreements. Further support should be provided for path construction and maintenance, and for an enhanced ranger service.

Extension of planning powers to road construction, but not to forestry and agriculture (apart from buildings). Forestry in particular is already very highly regulated by the Woodland Grant Scheme and IACCs provide controls for agriculture. There are also relevant proposals in para. 3.20 which require land management to fit in with the Park objectives.

Strengthening the general presumption against national aspirations for the expansion or creation of major developments in National Parks, such as military use, renewable energy developments and large scale mineral and water extraction projection. The use of the term "large scale" still leaves a number of loopholes, and undesirable developments do not arise solely from "national" aspirations.

The ability for the National Park Authority to acquire land as a buyer of last resort.

9. The six roles of the National Park Body as planner, guardian, co-ordinator, local voice, information provider and leader (para 4-4)

The Society applauds the six roles, but would strengthen some of them as follows:

Planner: The National Park Body’s role should go further than the preparation of the Park Plan. The National Park Body should assist in the preparation of structure planning; be the responsible body for preparing any local plans; and undertake development control. It should be the planning authority for the area

Guardian: The National Park Body should monitor the working of the plan. This role should be undertaken through its operation of the planning system (including development audit), by means of financial incentives, through co-operation with other grant aiding bodies where appropriate and through "last resort" powers.

Local Voice: It should be noted that the National Park Body will not be just the local voice, but also a voice of the national heritage of Scotland. Similarly, financial aid for local businesses and socio-economic development should come primarily from local authorities, local enterprise trusts and the European Union, rather than the National Park budget.

Leader: This role should include the need "to set high standards both for itself and others".

10. The powers the Park Body needs to integrate the efforts of Government departments, public bodies, local authorities and the private owners and managers of land with National Park purposes (para 4-7)

In order for the new National Park Body to be able to provide leadership and implement the objectives of the Park, it will need adequate powers. Influence and consultation with a number of other planning authorities will not be sufficient, as has been well demonstrated elsewhere. There should be a statutory duty on other bodies to conform to the Park Plan, and National Park Bodies should have a role in structural planning, as well as being responsible for local plans and development control.

11. The general powers of the Park Body (para4-8)

In addition to those listed in the consultation paper, the Park Body should have the following powers:

Powers to acquire land and buildings;

Ability to employ staff and establish and co-ordinate a ranger service;

Powers to make bylaws and management and access agreements or orders (for both Water and land), with approval from the First Minister; and the

Reserve powers of compulsory purchase (to be used only as a last resort);

12. The specific powers of the Park Body in respect to conservation and recreational management; town and country planning and land management (paras 4-9 to 4-17)

Recreation Management: All National Parks should exercise a co-ordinating role for a park-wide ranger service, with some rangers employed directly by the park.

Town and Country Planning: In terms of the effectiveness of the approach, the National Park Body must become a planning authority with local and structural planning and development control powers.

13. Practical approaches to promoting joint working and partnerships between the Park Body and other organisations and interests (para 4-17)

Possible approaches are commented on in the responses listed above.

14. Possible structures and governance of the Park Body (paras 4-18 to 4-22)

With regard to the most appropriate type of governing structure, the National Park Body should be an independent body with full planning powers.

In terms of size, a Body of 15 members would be a number that could handle policies and direction in a comprehensive way, and at the same time allow the Body to develop a Park ethos. As a planning authority, the Body should also have a majority of councillors (eight), nominated by the Local Council. The First Minister could appoint the remaining seven, of whom six should represent the national interest and should be knowledgeable in conservation, land management and recreation. The seventh person could be local and have special relevant knowledge, and therefore represent local interests. The First Minister should appoint the Chairman from among this Body.

While local involvement is essential, it would be inappropriate for the Park Body not to include representatives of the wider national community.

15. Approaches to national monitoring and audit of performance (para 4-23)

While recommending that further thought be given to the matter of whom the national parks should be answerable, the Society is minded to suggest that in order to take a national overview, Scottish Natural Heritage should have a monitoring role, and that Park support should come through it. The National Parks, however, should publish their own Annual Reports and Accounts.
Approaches to the funding of National Parks (paras 4-24 to 4-26)
It is recognised that funding requirements in Parks will vary. However, the financial needs will be substantial, and without proper resources National Parks cannot deliver their objectives. It is suggested that 80% of the Park Budget should be met directly by Government. In addition, the precedent in England should be followed where the 20% raised by Local Authorities is added to their standard Spending Assessment (Revenue Support Grant) which covers their contribution to the Park budget.

17. Potential for National Parks to explore new sources of funding (paras 4-27 to 4-28)

There should be potential for National Parks to explore new sources of funding, but such additional funding should not be a substitute for Government support.

18 & 19. Proposals for powers, structures and area of a proposed National Park in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs and the Cairngorms (paras 5-26 to 5-33, and 6-24 to 6-29)

The Society would support Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, and the Cairngorms, becoming national parks on the following basis:

Implications for the Powers, Structures and Area of a National Park

There should be a multiplicity of ownership within the National Park

There should be an independent Park Authority with full planning powers (including a structural planning role) as already suggested.

There should be a duty on all concerned in the Park area to work to the Park Plan.

There should be a commitment to high standards.

There should be an ability to hold, manage and acquire land, and to undertake conservation projects alone or with other parties.

Recreation and Visitor Management

Water-based recreation requires new legislation in order to manage it effectively. National Parks should be responsible for better water resource management.

Agriculture and Forestry

There is a danger of creating over-bureaucratic arrangements. Provided owners and land managers co-operate with the National Park and follow the Park Plan, there is no need for the National Park to be involved with details of management of public or private land activities.

Town and Country Planning

There needs to be one planning authority only for each National Park area and this should be the National Park Body.

Economic Development

It is considered unnecessary for the National Park to have expertise in local community economic development projects, which should be the primary responsibility of Local Authorities and the LECs, and therefore funded from other budgets.

Structures

The Park Authority membership should be as suggested earlier in the response (fifteen in total, with eight Local Authority representatives, six National representatives and one Local representative. The Chairman should be appointed from within this body by the First Minister).

19. Proposals for powers, structures and area of a proposed National Park in the Cairngorms (paras 6-24 to 6-29)

The powers for forestry for a National Park in the Cairngorms, detailed in para 6-12, should match those of Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, in that the future planning of forests in the area should be a co-operative venture between the Park and Forest Enterprise, with the latter keeping responsibility for its management.

20 & 21. The approach proposed for the identification of possible candidates for future National Park status, and suggestions for proposed working group areas (paras 7-10 to 7-15)

We believe that the identification of possible candidates for future National Park status should wait until the first two suggested National Parks have been properly trailed.

22. The future role of the National Scenic Area as a complementary designation to National Parks (paras 7-16 to 7-18)

NSAs are an important designation, which within a National Park can have a supportive role as part of the conservation management of the heritage. Equally SSSIs and Nature Reserves are important in their own right as part of the National Park.

There should be a pro-active approach to NSAs outwith as well as within National Parks. They are a suitable designation for an area of high heritage quality which is not under considerable recreation or development pressure.

Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands

 

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