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Call on Government to show commitment to protecting England’s National Parks

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Short-term economic priorities are overriding long-established protections and allowing inappropriate development in England’s National Parks, says a new report by Sheffield Hallam University.

The report, based on research commissioned by Campaign for National Parks, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust, looked at the national policy to restrict ‘major development’ in National Parks, which has protected these iconic areas since they were created in the 1940s.

The research found that interpretations of ‘major development’ vary between the National Parks, and decisions to approve planning applications often reflect the Government ‘mood’ at the time, with policy changes that lean toward economic growth rather than environmental protection.

This varying approach has led to a number of recent major developments being granted permission that threaten the protected areas’ beauty, along with their cultural and environmental significance.

The major development test is the central planning protection for the landscape in National Parks, and applies to developments such as mines, wind farms and large scale housing developments. It states that planning applications should be refused for major development unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust are calling for a renewed commitment from Government to make sure National Parks are protected against inappropriate, damaging development.

Ruth Bradshaw, policy and research manager at the Campaign for National Parks said:“It is essential the Government confirms that protecting our National Parks from inappropriate, damaging development remains a national priority. 

"Our National Parks are special because of the beautiful landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage they contain and the recreational opportunities they offer. But they are also important to the rural economy and have huge potential to help improve our nation’s health and wellbeing. These assets must be protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.”

Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University's department for natural and built environment interviewed National Park Authority planners across the country and examined the decisions on 70 planning applications for major development in, and in the setting of, National Parks. This included the approval last year of the world’s largest potash mine (by volume) in the North York Moors National Park.


If the mine goes ahead, this huge development will disfigure the landscape, negatively impact on wildlife and cause an increase in HGV traffic during its construction. Some predict it could result in a 13% reduction in visitor numbers and could cause a loss of £35 million in direct tourism expenditure per year (Whitby Area Development Trust, 2015). 

Sheffield Hallam's Professor Lynn Crowe, co-author of the report, said: “Enabling a sustainable future for local communities whilst ensuring that the primary purposes to protect and enhance our National Parks for the enjoyment of everyone are achieved, remains at the heart of the challenge facing these special landscapes."


Based on the research by Sheffield Hallam University, the Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust are now calling for:

  • The Government to reconfirm its commitment to National Parks in the forthcoming 25 Year Plan for the Environment by clearly stating how they will ensure their long-term protection and enhancement. It is also essential that protections for nature are maintained after the UK leaves the European Union.
  • National Park Authorities to develop local plan policies that set out clearly how the protection against major development should be applied in their National Park.
  • Natural England to take a more active role in ensuring that National Parks are effectively protected from major development. This should include producing an annual update setting out how the major development test is being implemented and providing guidance or training for National Park Authorities to address any issues identified.

Notes to Editors

  • For media enquiries, please contact Gemma Rogers at Campaign for National Parks 0207 981 0891 / 07972 630 135 /
  • The full publication, National Parks – Planning for the Future is available to view here.
  • It is underpinned by research by Sheffield Hallam University commissioned by the Campaign for National Parks, Campaign to Protect Rural England and National Trust. Click here to read the evidence report.