National Parks are areas of land designated because of their natural beauty and the opportunities they give for open-air recreation, having regard both to their character and to their position in relation to centres of population . National Parks are landscapes of rare geology, ecology and cultural heritage, considered of national importance.
Concerns about whether the Chilterns AONB is getting the care and protection it requires, have led people, spearheaded by MP Cheryl Gillan, to question whether the Chilterns should be a National Park.
Natural England manages the process of deciding which parts of the country get a designation and they have a list of requests for National Park status and boundary reviews. The process of reviewing each request can take many years and involves extensive public and stakeholder consultation.
Yes, everyone who lives or works in the Chilterns will have a say. There would an extensive consultation for residents, farmers and businesses based in the Chilterns; anyone who cares about the Chilterns, even if not a resident, can give their views.
National Parks are designated because of their natural beauty and the opportunities for recreation.
The Chilterns meets the natural beauty test as an AONB and is acknowledged as a landscape of national importance. It has special qualities which should be protected for the nation, including rare habitats and species, views, tranquillity, dark skies and an extensive network of footpaths and rights of way. Society needs green space for people’s health and well-being, and the natural services provided by a landscape, more than ever. Time outdoors, in greener, wilder, more tranquil places, offers significant health benefits for everyone. There are few landscapes which could claim to have as much recreational opportunity as the Chilterns, due to our extensive network of rights of way totalling 2000km. With 1.6 million people living within 8km and ten million people living within an hour, the Chilterns is one of the most accessible protected landscapes in Europe.
For these reasons we believe the Chilterns meets the criteria for becoming a National Park.
There are no National Parks in central southern England as the map shows. The lack of other designated landscapes in the region and the enormous population nearby makes the Chilterns ideally placed to be a new National Park and would help it fulfil its potential to benefit society.
The Government announced a Review of AONBs and National Parks in February 2018 which will report back to Government in autumn 2019. The request for the Chilterns to be given a different status will not be considered directly by this review but the process for reviewing designations will be. The review may also consider different models for designated landscapes and will consider whether current designations are fit for purpose.See the review's terms of reference.
National Park status does not change the support or rules for landowners and farmers. National Parks can attract significant resources and grants for land management which would support farmers and landowners. Post-Brexit, the system for supporting land management will change and National Park status would give even greater voice to landowners and farmers across the area and would help attract more resources.
National Parks normally have some of the responsibilities which current Local Authorities in the Chilterns have. But, it can be decided that Local Authorities continue to deliver some of these services such as elements of the planning system or rights of way responsibilities. For example, in the South Downs National Park, some of the councils have retained responsibilities for determining planning applications, working to a single National Park local plan.
The Chilterns faces more pressure than most designated landscapes and ranks 3rd in the table of housing applications per km2 in designated landscapes. National Park status would allow decisions about the best places for development and infrastructure to be taken in a strategic and consistent way across the whole of the area. National Park status would not make it harder to get planning permission.
National Park status would help ensure that the Chilterns is appreciated and valued and therefore cared for. A National Park creates a local plan ensuring that facilities, infrastructure and development are planned in a strategic and consistent way across the whole park.
National Park status would give greater recognition to the Chilterns and would create the potential for a more strategic view to be taken on appropriate conservation and development across the whole geography.
To deliver the recreation potential of the Chilterns, a more holistic approach is needed, more resources need to be sought e.g. from lottery funds, and the National Park brand would mean greater public awareness. Though the Conservation Board is a voice for the Chilterns, it does not have the authority to deliver its needs. The Chilterns needs a single strategic authority to ensure consistent, joined-up policies across the whole area. An enhanced planning role and powers are required, along with the ability to create a strategic development plan for the whole AONB. These would ensure that the Chilterns can be conserved and enhanced for everyone, for ever.
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