PETER FROST is outraged as national parks, starved of funds by the Con-Dems, prepare for a flogging-off of assets
Ever since they were nearly elected in 2010 the Tories and their coalition co-conspirators the Lib Dems have been trying to sell off our publicly owned forests and countryside.
Tory environment minister Caroline Spelman got a bloody nose from the huge public backlash when she tried to sell off Britain’s forests and woodlands. Ultimately her failed attempts to privatise the forest got her the sack from David Cameron.
Now the Con-Dems are having another go at selling off some of the most spectacular natural family jewels of the British countryside.
This time the target is some of the most beautiful parts of our national parks which are looked after by National Park Authorities (NPAs) made up of trustees including elected local councillors and others appointed by the secretary of state.
The parks are funded by central government via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the NPAs are charged to act as custodians of these precious places — for people, wildlife and future generations. The parks provide breathing spaces for people who visit in their thousands to walk and enjoy nature.
The national parks were set up as a direct result of the historic Kinder Trespass in 1932 demanding the right of access of ordinary people to the vast acreage of private grouse and pheasant shoots.
Gradually a network of parks was set up all over the country. Today there are 13 parks in England and Wales and another two in Scotland — The Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
The Peak District was the first of the English parks, set up in April of 1951. In the same year the Lake District, the first Welsh park Snowdonia (Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri), and Dartmoor were established.
In 1952 two more parks were established, the Pembrokeshire Coast (Arfordir Penfro) and North York Moors.
In 1954 came the Yorkshire Dales and Exmoor and in 1956 Northumberland. In 1957 the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog).
Then in 1989 the Broads came into being — the first lowland park — and in 2005 the New Forest and finally in 2009 the South Downs.
That growth and development has now been killed off by Cameron and his environmental philistines.
After nearly five years of savage government cuts in the national park budgets the parks are being forced into slashing jobs, and looking for other desperate ways to balance the books.
The present government has been far more sympathetic to exploitation of the parks such as gravel and mineral extraction, quarrying, inappropriate holiday accommodation developments and private, expensive and exclusive shooting estates.
Some of the NPAs have been forced into taking the familiar Tory strategy of selling off the family silver.
They are offering chunks of our prime landscape at knock-down prices.
In the Lake District seven beauty spots are already up for sale. Since 2010, the authority has seen a 23 per cent cut in its grant.
Stickle Tarn (below), an iconic and simply majestic location is on the market with a local estate agent for £20,000.
Baneriggs Wood, an exceptional mature deciduous woodland that is home to red squirrels and rare birds could be yours for a bargain £110,000.
Other locations for sale in the Lakes National Park include Lady Wood, Blue Hill and Red Bank Wood, Yewbarrow Wood, Blea Brows on Coniston Water, amenity land with river frontage at Portinscale, Keswick and Waterside Knott, Newby Bridge.
This privatisation may prevent the Lake District achieving World Heritage Site status. Some of the locations offered for sale are even Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
South Lakeland Lib Dem district councillor Heidi Halliday told the press: “This goes against the remit of the National Park Authority. I thought they were there to protect the national park but they are selling it off.”
Maureen Colquhoun, an Ambleside councillor, went even further: “I’m absolutely horrified,” she said. “They are destroying the national park … they’ve taken leave of their senses.”
Even South Lakes Lib Dem MP Tim Farron called for greater accountability from the National Park Authority, “I hope that the national park will listen to local people and think again, even at this late hour.”
The Lakes Park isn’t the only one looking to sell prime locations. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park too eight properties are earmarked for sale.
David Cameron and his government hold the purse strings — they have made the savage cuts to park budgets — and it is their decisions that are forcing our national treasures onto the market.
With the government announcing a further 10 per cent cut in the proposed Defra funding for 2015-16, things can only get worse.
As with the NHS, the Tories want to sell off something owned by us all to their rich mates who want to make a quick profit. Just like with the NHS we all need to fight to preserve our national parks.
One thing you can do is to sign the online petition to protect our national parks: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-national-parks
Peter Frost was, for nearly 10 years, secretary of state appointed trustee on the broads Authority — the body that runs the National Park in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 27 February 2015