A recent proposal from Pennine Prospects that the South Pennines should become a ‘self-declared’ Regional Park attracted quite a flurry of media attention in and around the region, appearing on the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire broadcast of BBC 1’s Inside Out TV programme. On the face of it, the proposal seems to be an attractive one, but it does raise some important questions and concerns.
What is a Regional Park? As a landscape designation, Regional Parks are not well-known in England, but are essentially larger versions of country parks, usually in urban fringe areas. Crucially however, it is a non-statutory designation, and any proposed developments within Regional Parks are subject to exactly the same planning policies and procedures as other unprotected areas.
This raises an obvious concern in the case of the South Pennines, as the area is extremely vulnerable to proposals for unsuitable developments, of which undoubtedly the most worrying is the ever-increasing flood of applications for wind farms. It is precisely because the South Pennines lacks any statutory landscape designation, and is an upland area close to major urban centres and transport and power transmission infrastructure, that it is so attractive to wind farm developers. A Regional Park would be powerless to prevent such installations, and yet without question, they present the greatest short to medium-term threat to the area.
None of this should be taken to mean that we oppose the idea of establishing a Regional Park. Indeed, we feel that the proposal has much to commend it and is greatly to be welcomed. The proposal seems to have arisen from a desire on the part of Pennine Prospects to put the South Pennines on the ‘tourist map’. Styling the area as a Regional Park will no doubt go some way to achieving this. Any resultant increase in visitor numbers and public awareness would be a very positive outcome. However, we also believe that it is very important to see the creation of a Regional Park as a ‘stepping-stone’ to National Park status, and not as an end-point in itself. Only a National Park would have the ‘teeth’ to ensure that planning decisions do not adversely affect the area, and the resources to properly manage the volume of tourism that the area attracts.
Pam Warhurst, Chair of Pennine Prospects was recently quoted in Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus as saying “We don’t need a new National Park – this is the ‘people’s park’ ’’. Whilst we have the greatest of respect for Pam Warhurst and the work that Pennine Prospects has carried out in recent years, we feel that such a view is mistaken. Although Pam’s argument that a ‘grassroots’ initiative to ‘self-declare’ the South Pennines as a Regional Park is more in keeping with the area’s independent and non-conformist spirit is well thought out and very appealing, ultimately only the statutory protection that a National Park brings can safeguard the area’s long-term future. It is for this reason that we will argue that the creation of a Regional Park, whilst a fantastic idea, should nevertheless be seen as a step on the road to the ultimate goal of National Park status, and not as an alternative.