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A NEW DEAL FOR OUR FINEST COUNTRYSIDE

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England's finest countryside needs new legislation to protect it, ...
England's finest countryside needs new legislation to protect it,

more money to pay for its upkeep and better arrangements for managing

it, says the Countryside Commission.

The commission has submitted its advice to government on the future

of these special designated areas, the 37 Areas of Outstanding

Natural Beauty and the eight National Parks. Its views are also

highlighted in the latest issue of its quarterly newspaper

Countryside.

In its advice, the commission is calling for new legislation, giving

local authorities:

- statutory duties to safeguard Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

and management plans for them

- the power to hand over the running of these areas to conservation

boards, with strengthened powers and secure funding

'Despite the best efforts of local authorities and those working to

protect it, the management of our protected countryside, and in

particular Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is under-resourced.

In the case of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty the role of local

authorities and others in securing their good management needs to be

clarified,' says commission chairman Richard Simmonds. 'New steps

must be taken if we are to improve the protection and management of

these special areas.'

The commission undertook a full review of the future of protected

countryside in England, following requests from the government. It

has recommended that the following principles should underpin the

protection and management of protected areas:

- appropriate and effective management and funding arrangements are

essential if our finest countryside is to be secure and protected for

future generations

- flexibility is needed; each area should have management and funding

arrangements which are appropriate to its needs

- carrying out statutory functions requires secure long-term support

from public funds

- high priority should also be given to securing funding from

non-government sources, but such funding should be seen as

supplementary to public funds, not a substitute

- the policies and activities of all departments of central and local

government should reinforce the statutory purposes of protected

countryside

Richard Simmonds says 'In practical terms we are proposing new

legislation so that those responsible for managing protected

countryside have the administrative, legal and financial means to do

the job properly.

'We are proposing that 50% of the costs of managing Areas of

Outstanding Natural Beauty should be met through government funding.

We estimate that the total costs for this could amount to£18.5 to

£19.5m. We would like government to fund the core costs, which

amount to some£10m a year, depending on how many areas choose

to set up conservation boards. We also propose a new fund to meet the

costs of special projects in these areas, with a suggested government

funding of£2m a year.

'The government needs to put a stop to the arguments about first and

second division designated areas. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

and National Parks are equivalent; policies for their protection

against inappropriate development are in place. But not everyone

believes this. We would like the government to give a lead,

confirming its policy (in PPG7) and demonstrating through its own

planning decisions the very high degree of protection all our

protected countryside should enjoy,' Mr Simmonds adds.

The commission has also offered its views on the long-standing

problems of two particular outstanding areas of countryside, the

South Downs and the New Forest. It has recommended that the most

appropriate arrangement for the long term management of the South

Downs is as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with a new

statutory conservation board, with extensive powers and funding as

outlined above. It confirmed that the South Downs do not meet the

criteria of a National Park. The New Forest does and should be given

status equivalent to a National Park. However in view of the special

local circumstances of managing the New Forest, the commission

recommends that a tailor made authority would be the best solution

for its management.

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