Written Ministerial Statement

On 13th September the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon. Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, tabled a Written Ministerial Statement setting out a package of measures to support nature recovery in Protected Landscapes. You can find the full text of the statement below.

In the statement the Government confirmed its intention, announced in the Lords by Lord Benyon (see Parliamentlive.tv), to amend legislation that would enhance National Park and AONB Management Plans by placing a stronger requirement on partners to contribute to their delivery. DEFRA also published a press release.

The statement also said that the Government would: shortly publish its response to the Landscapes (Glover) Review consultation; publish a new Outcomes Framework which will define the contribution that Protected Landscapes should make to the national target to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030; and provide funding for the new Protected Landscapes Partnership involving the National Landscapes Association, National Parks England, National Trails UK and Natural England, which will deliver projects and programmes on nature recovery and widening access to nature.

Amendments to Legislation

Parliament passed the Government amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to enhance AONB and National Park Management Plans and the Bill is now an Act. Earl Howe’s brief speech on the amendment can be viewed on Parliamentlive.tv.

DEFRA has emphasised that the changes represent a fundamental shift. There are two main aspects:

1. A strengthening of the Duty of Regard under section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act from “a relevant authority shall have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area of outstanding natural beauty” to “a relevant authority … must seek to further the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area of outstanding natural beauty”.

The amendment also gives the Secretary of State the power to make provision through regulations about how a relevant authority is to comply with the strengthened duty including things that the authority may, must or must not do to comply with it.

2. Giving the Secretary of State the power to make regulations requiring protected landscape Management Plans to contribute to the meeting of any target set under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Environment Act 2021, including setting out how they will do so, and setting out how “any plan under section 89 relating to an area of outstanding natural beauty in England” must further the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of that area.

For more details of the legislative amendments, see the DEFRA briefing note on the amendments in context below.

These changes go some way to implement the recommendations by the Landscapes Review to strengthen both the status of protected landscape management plans and the Duty of Regard on relevant authorities, which include local authorities, parish councils, Government agencies, state-owned companies such as Network Rail etc.

The implications and timing of the changes should begin to be seen next year, when officials are expected to draft the secondary legislation (regulations) giving effect to the amendment, together with accompanying guidance.