A Public Inquiry into proposals to make major additions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks got underway yesterday, and is expected to run until the middle of June.
Natural England has agreed the plan to bring an extra 162 sq miles (420 sq km) under National Park protection. However five local authorities have objected to a proposal which would represent a transfer of power from them to the National Parks. By law a Public Inquiry is triggered if even one affected local authority objects.
If approved the extensions would see the two National Parks meet along a stretch of the M6 corridor - the scenic bit near Tebay.
'The landscapes being considered by this Public Inquiry are the finest undesignated tracts of countryside in England'
The proposed additions to the Yorkshire Dales National Park include parts of Cumbria and Lancashire in and around the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell, Mallerstang and part of the Orton Fells (all in Eden District), plus an additional area to the south around Barbon and the Lune Valley.
Over to the west of the M6, the Lake District would expand to cover the pretty hilly area around Borrowdale (no, not that one).
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) have joined together to support the extensions, which they say would mark the conclusion of sixty years of unfinished business, 'finally giving deserved status and protection to wonderful landscapes that have, until now, been excluded from the National Park family.'
CPRE President Andrew Motion said:
'The landscapes of England are timeless; but some landscapes are given special protection because they hold a unique place in the heart of the nation.'
'The Lake District and Yorkshire Dales are two such places, we should take this opportunity to right an historic omission, and extend these two National Parks. I hope, as I know thousands of others also hope, that the Inquiry starting now will recommend the four extensions of these two priceless, breath-taking places, and that the Government will endorse that recommendation if it comes. In doing so, they would leave a legacy for the nation that will be cherished for many generations to come.'
When they were drawn up over sixty years ago the current boundaries of both National Parks omitted important areas of high quality landscape, say supporters of the change. Anyone who's walked the Yorkshire Dales boundary across the top of the Howgills would have spotted the inconsistency in the present arrangement here, under which one half of the range enjoys the full protection of National Park status while the other - equally deserving - is left out. This situation arose simply because the Park border was made to follow the existing administrative boundary between the now-defunct counties of West Riding and Westmorland, and has never been rectified. A similar state of affairs exists over in the Mallerstang fells.
CNP President Ben Fogle has also been vocal in his support for the extensions, claiming that:
'The landscapes being considered by this Public Inquiry are the finest undesignated tracts of countryside in England.'
'National Park status will not only help to protect the natural beauty and wildlife of these areas, but provide a much needed boost to the rural economy in these tough economic times.'
The most recent public consultation into the extension plans generated over 3000 responses, both from local people and from across the country, with over 90% in favour.
Far from creating barriers of red tape, as some opponents fear, National Park designation provides opportunities to strengthen the rural economy, claim the CNP and CPRE.
'The benefits to businesses stem from both National Park status itself and the associated 'brand', and from the work of the National Park Authorities in supporting additional investment in their areas' they say.
A recently published report on the economic contribution of National Parks suggests they may have a point (see UKH here).
The two groups are represented at the Public Inquiry by the Key Support Group, which is coordinated by Friends of the Lake District.
The Inquiry Inspector is due to submit their report to the Government in September this year. The final decision then rests with ministers.