How National Park boundary extensions could affect planning

Boundary extensions that "virtually join" the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Lake District National Park have taken effect, but planning policies for the expanded areas will remain a potential source of confusion for some time.

National Parks: planning remit removed from councils
National Parks: planning remit removed from councils

At the beginning of this month, almost 50,000 hectares of Cumbria and Lancashire were added to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Lake District National Park, transferring planning responsibilities from three second-tier councils to the parks’ authorities.

The move will offer enhanced protection for new park extension areas, and, as new environment secretary Andrea Leadsom remarked, will "virtually join" the two national parks, save for the ?corridor carrying the M6 Motorway that bisects them.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park has grown by around a quarter, with the addition of 41,700 hectares of land from Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council, and Lancaster City Council. The Lake District National Park, meanwhile, is now around three per cent bigger, gaining roughly 7,000 hectares from Eden and South Lakeland.

The change means that commercial and resi-dential applications within the newly-expanded boundaries will face greater scrutiny. One immediate planning implication is the removal of permitted development rights, meaning that household extensions, proposals to convert farm buildings, warehouses or shops into new uses, and some categories of renewable energy development will now require full consent. Additionally, Planning Practice Guidance for national parks stipulates that "major development" may only be permitted in "exceptional circumstances", although authorities can reach their own definition of major development.

Undetermined planning applications for the extension areas transferred to the relevant park authorities on 1 August, while an amendment order to the Environment Act 1995 last month gave a three-year window for already-granted permitted development applications to be delivered, and for appeals against refusals to be heard.

Perhaps the biggest headache for park authority planners is that neither national park has a local plan that covers its new territory. Both say they will use legacy documents from Eden, South Lakeland and Lancaster councils to determine applications in these areas until they have adopted plans.

Yorkshire Dales head of development management Richard Graham told Planning that working from a local plan reflecting "the old Yorkshire Dales", as well as policies from three districts, would make things "particularly complicated" for his development management team. "We’ll be working from around 16 different planning documents to cover the different areas," he said. "If one plan says something can’t be built on one side of the road, but another says it can go on the other, we’re going to have to explain those differences."

Cumbria-based planning consultant Kate Bellwood said there would be uncertainty about what represented acceptable development until both authorities updated their local plans. She said the situation was particularly acute for barn conversions, which formed a significant source of income for the rural economy. "Eden has had a positive policy towards barn conversions, whereas the Yorkshire Dales tends to be much more restrictive, which begs the question of which policy will be applied in the Eden extension area," she said.

Both national park authorities said that no planning staff would be transferring to them from Eden, South Lakeland or Lancaster City Councils to cope with the additional responsibilities, but the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said it may increase the size of its development management team.

Dorothy Fairburn, director for the north of England at the Country Land and Business Association, urged the national park authorities to look for "innovative" ways that redundant agricultural buildings could be redeveloped to both support new business and preserve the environment. "We want the national parks to push ahead with broadband and mobile phone communication improvements so that some of these barns can be used for IT businesses and other enterprises that don’t require huge premises," she said. Fairburn added that national park status would inevitably mean that new development required more expensive materials and higher quality design, which could "prove too expensive" for some applicants.

Robert Hindle, director at the Rural Solutions consultancy, which represented a handful of landowners opposing the Yorkshire Dales extension, said the park authority had a reputation for making it "very difficult" to deliver small-scale open market housing development. He said that he hoped it would take a more flexible view on housing and on what qualified as "major development" in future to avoid discouraging investment.

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