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National Parks an asset to Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"In proposing the Conservative amendments, it is important that I begin by making a positive statement about the national parks. I greatly value them; they make a wonderful contribution to Welsh life.

I disagree with those who speak of abolishing the national parks, as the benefits that they bring to us, particularly the economic benefits through tourism, are terrific.

The Minister referred to the prime purposes of economic development and landscape protection, but he did not refer to the social element of national parks, and the impact that that work has on the culture of the parks.

The report mentions several significant changes, and, like the Minister, I am not convinced of the need for a statutory third purpose.

I believe that it is as well to stick with the two main purposes that we currently have. The objectives that the research produced can be dealt with in other ways, and it would be best to leave that fairly clear.

Given my great support for the national parks, I am deeply concerned by the low regard in which many people living within the parks hold them. It is a mistake for us to ignore that and not to consider actions that might change it.

It is important to do more than ask the national park authorities to 'take to heart', as the Minister said, the concern that is so often expressed.

Amendment 4, on directly electing members to national park bodies, is difficult. I can see the downside and how a relatively small issue could dominate an election, but I understand that this is already taking place at the level of 25 per cent in Scotland.

Not only has the difficulty of the different status of members not been a problem, it has proven to be a success. Generally, the dangers raised in discussions have not come to pass. The Assembly Government should consider this.

It would make a dramatic difference to the appreciation of those living within the parks of the park authorities. They would understand the park authorities much more because they would be regularly faced with an election, whereby these issues would be aired much more.

The second issue that we have discussed is the development control function. Again, I accept that this would be a highly controversial proposal if it were that.

However, what we have had is the review of the parks that came before the committee. It was not a wholly comprehensive review.

It did not look at whether development control should remain within the park authorities. I do not believe that it even looked at how development control could be managed in within the parks.

This is the function that causes almost all of the opposition to the park authorities that exists among those who live within the parks.

I am not, at this stage, asking for that function to be transferred. However, because the review that we have had so far has not considered development control, or the impact of moving responsibility for that to local authorities in one, two, or perhaps three of the parks, it would be extremely sensible for there to be a review commissioned in order for that to be considered.

The Conservatives will support the Liberal Democrats' amendment 2, which proposes that 50 per cent of the representation should be directly elected.

However, I would prefer the proportion to be 25 per cent. As other Members have said, if you are following a potentially controversial course, it is as well to be cautious. Not being prepared to go down that road at all, which the Minister suggested was the right way, is not to be cautious, but is not to address the point whatsoever.

Finally, I return to my opening remarks. There is a problem with the perception of the national park authorities among those who live within the parks.

The Government must address this. If it does not do so, it does damage to the parks. The national park authorities are often convinced, as people often are, that everything that they do is right. We need to tell the authorities that the serious issue of what the parks' own residents think of them must be addressed.

It must be addressed, and if that is done, national parks will be recognised for the asset they are by everyone in Wales."

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