Debates between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Baroness Pitkeathley during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 12th Jul 2021

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Baroness Pitkeathley
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the 15 national parks in the UK are indeed a natural treasure and one of the glories of our country, some of them have a worldwide reputation. To confine myself to the three in Wales, I know they may be a devolved matter, but the facts about them still indicate the huge significance of national parks generally. The Brecon Beacons, the Pembrokeshire coast and Snowdonia cover 20% of the land surface of Wales. They have a resident population of 80,000 people and account for over £0.5 billion of Wales’ gross added value—some 1.2% of the Welsh economy. They are internationally important examples of how working landscapes can be protected.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has set out one of the two purposes of national parks as set out in Section 5(1) of the 1949 national parks Act. These two purposes clearly chime in beautifully with the Environment Bill now before us, and it is therefore very important that they should have a specific clause within the Bill. Although there are legal protections for them under the 1949 Act, we live at a time when there is a desperate need, for example, for more affordable housing. The Government have made this a priority, and some of the checks and balances that used to be in place, in the form of the ability to prevent a particular scheme going forward, are being eroded. We saw one public reaction to this recently in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

The amendment before us would ensure that any local authority seeking planning permission in a national park would have to take fully into account the legal purpose of the park. The Minister may argue that there are enough protections already in the 1949 Act but, given that the national parks are such a crucial feature of our environment and that the pressure for new housing is now so intense, it is appropriate that there is a special clause in the Bill which keeps these protections firmly in the mind of all those drawing up applications in those areas. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has mentioned some of the pressures—for example, from motorways—but possible housing developments may perhaps be on the edge of a national park. No doubt it would be unthinkable for a local authority to try to put up a new housing estate in the middle of a national park, but there could be building, industrial or waste developments on the edge of a national park, which would have serious implications for its protected environment.

At a time of increasing pressure, the proposed new clause before us comes under the heading of “You can’t be too careful”, and I support it.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is not speaking on this group, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.