Last month, environment secretary Elizabeth Truss announced that two national parks are to be extended by nearly 50,000 hectares. While the Lake District national park will see its area extended by only three per cent, the Yorkshire Dales national park will grow by some 25 per cent, home to between 4,000 and 6,000 people. The changes, which take effect on 1 August 2016, bring the boundaries of the two parks close to either side of the M6 (see map, right).
This gives both park authorities until next August to assume planning duties from several town halls. Both the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities will take on responsibilities for areas currently covered by South Lakeland District Council and Eden District Council. The Yorkshire Dales will also take on planning duties in areas covered by Lancaster City Council and Lancashire and Cumbria County Councils.
Truss said future government funding decisions "will take account of the planning functions the national parks will inherit from the local authorities". Peter Stockton, head of sustainable development at the Yorkshire Dales, said he sees this as a hint that it will receive extra money to manage the extended area. However, he said he also expects an overall funding reduction in this month's spending review. "It's a matter of how we resolve that internally," he said. He added that "we'll probably have some sort of reorganisation of our service".
The Lake District authority's head of development management David McGowan said it intends to pick up the extra work with existing staff. A lot of his authority's relatively small extension "is open countryside with little in the way of population and not much development", he explained.
The local authority that will hand over the biggest chunk of land is Eden District Council. But Gwyn Clark, its head of planning services, said the area represents just seven per cent of the applications it receives annually. "We get roughly 80 applications per year in the area that's being taken over by the Yorkshire Dales and four to five for the Lake District," he added.
As well as the other four affected local authorities, Eden will also have to pass on information on its development strategy. Stockton said the Yorkshire Dales, whose local plan does not currently apply to the extension area, will "be implementing the existing plans currently in place there". He added that "perhaps eventually we'll do a new local plan, but in the interim, we will implement the relevant bits of the Eden local plan and the other existing plans in those areas". McGowan said the Lake District would do the same.
So what does the new national park designation mean for development? The most "topical" difference will concern permitted development rights that allow the conversion of agricultural buildings into certain other uses without the need for planning permission, said McGowan. One potential effect of last month's announcement could be a "rush of people trying to convert their barns" while they can still use these rights, Stockton predicted.
Dorothy Fairburn, director for the north of England at the Country Land and Business Association, told Planning that the national parks' exemption from the permitted development rights "makes it harder for people to either provide rural housing or rural jobs in national parks, and both of these are deeply needed in national parks".
Overall, the national park planning regime is more restrictive, according to Tony Kernon, of Kernon Countryside Consulting. He pointed to paragraph 115 in the National Planning Policy Framework, which states that "great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in national parks, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty". According to Fairburn, the added emphasis on landscape - and a stronger requirement on buildings to fit the local vernacular better - can make development more expensive.
The designation also means added bureaucracy, said Duncan Hartley, director of planning at Rural Solutions. The consultancy represented seven landowners opposing the Yorkshire Dales extension when it was first proposed three years ago. "One of the roles of national park authorities is to preserve the character and appearance of the area as well as the duty to mange the land to aid tourism and development," Hartley said. But he added that "the perception among landowners is that the authorities put greater emphasis on the protection and less on their economic role".