By Accounting for Energy – (4 min read)
Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently announced that National Parks will be reviewed as part of a 25-Year Environment Plan, with the aim of expanding existing National Park designation across England. This has been generally well received by national press and countryside conservationists alike. After all, calls to protect our English green lands sounds like a universally appealing policy. But there is some scepticism, arguably among those with the greatest stake in National Parks, who are calling for the economic growth to remain at the centre of the debate. We consider what the implications may be for renewable landowners within England’s National Parks.
According to Gove, the review of National Parks is in recognition of the urgent need to protect them – their landscapes, their wildlife, while “properly supporting all those who live [and] work in them”. However, it is this apparent pecking order, which has caused concern to some, including the nation’s most influential landowners’ lobbying group.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), whose members manage around half of the rural land in England and Wales, has urged Gove to consider what the impact on increased protectionism will be on the economic development within National Parks.
In a press release, CLA President Tim Breitmeyer commented, “most businesses within designated landscapes experience significant opposition and hostility to development of any kind” and greater consideration of economic growth is paramount to achieve the “right balance” between growth and preserving natural beauty.
This is a compelling argument that must be taken seriously, and to take this a step further, it’s important to consider the impact Gove’s announcement will have on renewable development. While National Park authorities say they encourage renewable projects, landowners and farmers within National Parks may find they are not able to rent out their land for renewable schemes in the same way that their counterparts outside of the National Parks can. The commercial viability may be limited by the need to comply with the National Parks’ purposes.
The development of renewable land within National Parks plays a vital role in the economic growth that sustains the very communities which maintain these parks – providing alternative energy, jobs, and crucial infrastructure to name a few.
Gove insists that the increased protection of natural areas would “strengthen [them] in the face of present-day challenges”. While the creation of National Park designation almost 70 years ago has served to protect the heritage of some of the UK’s finest land, the “challenges” the country faces today are nuanced and multifaceted.
More complex solutions are needed to satisfy competing ambitions for our National Parks, namely between preserving beautiful spaces without impeding the economic and renewable opportunities of the people who maintain them.
If we are serious about achieving both, we need to give room to development opportunities in National Parks that will facilitate this economic and renewable growth – in doing so we can ensure they are sustainable to thrive for generations to come.