The Howgill Fells: currently half in, half out of the Yorkshire Dales national park

The Howgill Fells: currently half in, half out of the Yorkshire Dales national park

Councillors in Cumbria have objected to the enlargement of two national parks which would see their planning and countryside access powers switched to the national park authorities in the selected areas.

The council said placing extra parts of its county into national parks would lead to a democratic deficit and risk undermining important national infrastructure projects in the area.

Natural England the Government’s advisory body on the outdoors, is proposing to extend the Lake District national park eastwards and to add new areas, principally the northern Howgill Fells, Mallerstang and the Orton Fells, to the Yorkshire Dales national park.

But the county council’s cabinet, made up of six Tories, three Labour and one independent member, unanimously opposed the plans, saying they would curtail the building of affordable housing; have a negative impact on the proposed high speed rail link through the Lune Gorge; and diminish democracy, with unelected national park authority members taking decisions currently made by elected councillors.

A Cumbria spokesperson said: “Cumbria County Council’s voice in Natural England’s consultation will be a key one as the proposals involve the shift in planning and countryside access functions away from the council to the national park authorities. The changes would also affect rural communities and the wider Cumbrian public.”

Councillor Tim Knowles, Cumbria County Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “We have a very productive and positive working relationship with the national parks, particularly the Lake District National Park Authority.

“Therefore we have not just dismissed these proposals out of hand; instead we have given them close and careful consideration.

“However, the council strongly feels that it cannot support the proposed extension of the boundaries, given the negative impact that this would have on communities and that fact that it is taking decisions out of the hands of the people that Cumbrians have democratically elected.

“These are already beautiful and unspoilt areas under the current system, we don’t need to throw another ring of bureaucracy around local people for no reason.”

Natural England’s second phase of a consultation on the national park enlargements has just ended. In its first public consultation, more than 70 per cent respondents were in favour of the plans, though parish, district and county councils were ambivalent, a position criticised by Ruth Chambers of the Campaign for National Parks.

“We are concerned that despite the high level of public support the county and district councils were generally not supportive of the proposals,” she said in March this year.

“We hope that the councils’ views will more closely reflect those of their electorate as the boundary extension process progresses.”

Both the chief executive of the Lake District National Park Authority Richard Leafe and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chair Carl Lis have voiced their support for the extensions.

The final say on the plans rests with Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

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