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Welsh minister confirms designated landscape policy won’t be fundamentally changed

Words: Roger Milne
Hannah Blythyn

Five years on and after two independent reviews, the Welsh Government has insisted that all the country’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) will be retained and their current purpose ‘of conserving and enhancing natural beauty’ will not be weakened or changed.

That was made crystal clear in a statement to assembly members made in the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday (13 March) by environment minister Hannah Blythyn.

She promised a policy statement “in the coming months” but also committed to holding discussions on the governance and partnerships in AONBs that would improve “delivery and accountability”.

The minister added: “if we are to address the environmental challenges we face, we must recognise that designated landscapes [i.e. national parks and AONBs] must do more to identify, safeguard and realise the benefits from the public goods they protect for all the people of Wales… I want to see a more diverse and wide-ranging cross-section of Welsh society feeling they have a stake in these nationally important landscapes and recognising the benefits we derive from them”.

She stressed that the reviews and discussions of the past five years had not provided a consensus on whether it was necessary to change the original purpose of the designated areas, which gives primacy to the conservation of natural beauty.

However, she said: “This does not mean there is not a need for park authorities or AONB partnerships to pursue activity that supports the social and economic resilience of communities in their areas. They should, and there is no barrier to them doing so within their existing purpose”.

Blythyn also argued that there was a need to improve the connection between the existing purposes, including biodiversity conservation, and the framework within the Environment (Wales) Act 2016.

“To achieve this, I am minded to introduce legislation at a future opportunity to require the park authorities and AONBs to apply the principles of the sustainable management of natural resources, in particular when preparing their statutory management plans,” she stressed.