The Cotswold Conservation Board is undertaking a review to assess what the likely advantages and implications would be if the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was ever designated as a National Park. This is in response to the Glover Review, which will report to DEFRA during 2019, reviewing the overall National Park resource within the country, whether any existing National Parks need to be expanded or whether new National Parks ought to be created. If National Park status is ever to be awarded to the Cotswolds AONB, it would involve extensive and prolonged consultations, a public enquiry with the end result being made by the Secretary of State. Implementation could then easily take 10 years or more.
The Cotswolds area was designated an AONB in 1966 and now covers 2,038 sq. km. It attracts 23 million day visits per annum and is the third largest protected landscape in England. The AONB designation is estimated to create £337 million of value annually and supports some 10,000 jobs. 87% of the AONB comprises a farmed landscape therefore the livelihood and impact on farmers would need to lie at the heart of any decisions.
Richard Greasby, head of Butler Sherborn’s Rural Department , recently attended a meeting with The Cotswold Conservation Board, the NFU and CLA at which the benefits and disadvantages were debated. The benefits include the potential rationalisation of funding schemes; access to coordinated land management and planning advice; a potentially better and more consistent planning approach; an improved landscape; elevation of the Cotswolds brand; delivery of sustainable tourism, and finally the creation of policies to protect and manage the balance between tourism, farming and conservation. The potential disadvantages are an increase in bureaucracy, potential increases in house prices, more visitors, a more challenging planning environment and a higher cost to the Treasury.
It should be emphasised that this is a debate which is very much in its infancy, and it may lead to no change at all. Butler Sherborn’s view is that it is far too early to give balanced consideration as to whether such a designation would be a good or bad idea. We need to understand very clearly what the economic benefits would be versus the implications, as well as learning the lessons from the most recent designation of a National Park in the South Downs in 2010/2011.
Richard Greasby MRICS FAAV