Devon County Council’s environment chief says he would strongly oppose any proposal to centralise the National Park’s service.
As part of a wholesale change across England, it has been suggested the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) could bring all of the statutory functions and responsibilities of England’s protected landscapes together into a single organisational structure.
The controversial proposals appeared to suggest that scrapping the national park authorities for Exmoor and Dartmoor and handing control to a national body in London were being considered by ministers.
Critics had feared this would leave the 10 national parks in England, including Dartmoor and Exmoor, and the nation’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (AONB) without local management or input.
But Cllr Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s cabinet member for environmental services, told a cabinet meeting that while it is assumed that the creation of a National Landscape Service is likely to be announced, there is no certainty about its role, composition and subsequent implications for the moors.
But he said that if there was anything in the Government’s response to the Glover Report that legally joined up the National Parks and centralised control, then Devon would be opposing those changes.
Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the opposition Labour group, had asked the meeting for what representations Devon was making around the proposals, saying: ‘Will we oppose any taking away of powers from Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks as they do an excellent job and they are unique?;
He added: ‘I welcome any measures to increase biodiversity, improve inclusivity and better community access to our two glorious local national parks at Dartmoor and Exmoor. However any new national parks set up elsewhere must come with additional funding and not reduce our current levels of funding that are already challenging.
‘We must also resist any national government centralising powers and governance away from the existing structures that work so well with local representatives.
‘Overall in terms of our network of national parks , each has its own assets, issues, and economic drivers and we need a devolved systems that reflects this properly to make sure they are available and thriving.’
In response, Cllr Croad said that if that was the end proposal, then Devon would definitely be opposing it, and he was ‘gobsmacked’ when he initially heard the news from the leaked report.
He added: ‘At present, there is no government proposal to merge all National Park Authorities. There has been recent media coverage of a leaked report which referred to the consideration being given by Defra to the possible role and structure of a new National Landscape Service.
‘The establishment of this sort of service was one of the recommendations made through the Landscapes Review which was led by Julian Glover at the request of the (then) Secretary of State for the Environment. This addressed a very wide range of issues relating to both National Parks and AONBs, including specific recommendations relating to their governance.
‘The government response to this Landscapes Review is keenly anticipated. Whilst assumed that the creation of a National Landscape Service is likely to be announced, there is no certainty about its role and composition and the corresponding implications for the governance of our National Parks and AONBs.’
Julian Glover had denied he envisaged scrapping local management of the park, as his plan for a National Landscape Service was one of 27 recommendations made in his report.
Kevin Bishop, chief executive of Dartmoor National Park Authority, had previously said: ‘We still await a formal Government response to the Landscapes Review but if the BBC Countryfile story of ministers being minded to merge the 10 National Park Authorities and 34 AONBs into a single organisation is correct, then it is deeply concerning.’