Delivering development in a national park can be one of the most sensitive challenges for planners. Justin Gartland gives some tips on how to approach such applications.
1. Understand the policy environment in which you work
The UK’s designated national parks are the most protected areas of landscape in the country, for which there are good reasons.
Policies seek to control the very smallest of developments, whilst creating a stringent context designed to deflect the larger projects such as mineral extraction or energy generation schemes to beyond the Park boundary. To bring forward developments of any sort requires a high level of justification and proportionate environmental mitigation.
2. Work with planning officers
National Park Planning Authority officers act as guardians of the special qualities of the National Parks for which they have the statutory planning duty to protect. At the same time, an appreciation of the status of National Parks as working landscapes and areas of economic activity also needs to be accepted.
NLP experienced this duality recently when working on the recent Sirius Minerals’ polyhalite mine in the North York Moors National Park. The economic benefits were clearly visible but in a close co-ordination with national park officers NLP went to great lengths to deliver a scheme with minimal environmental impacts.
This involved mitigating HGV traffic disruption with a 37km long mineral transport tunnel, and housing the deep-shaft winding heads underground, rather than in towers; an innovation that ensures that the prominence of surface infrastructure is kept to a minimum.
These mitigation measures also involved close liaison with neighbouring authorities who often have long-established relationships with their neighbouring parks and, as was the case with this development, can accommodate some aspects of a scheme’s impacts.
3. Recognise the other aspirations for the National Park
Beneath planning policy, the National Park Authority is also likely to have management plan proposals in place. Developments can assist in delivering such proposals in part by contributing to measures which support or enhance the special qualities of the park.
4. Engage with the local resident and working populations
Local people living and working in a national park have a voice in plan-making and decision-taking. The park authorities have a duty to foster economic growth alongside the protection of the area’s special qualities.
5. Exercise the planning balance
This is exercised as elsewhere, although the bar is somewhat higher in terms of addressing impacts, and the park’s unique special qualities need to be understood and protected. For major developments, the National Planning Policy Framework sets out a policy test. However, other elements of the framework may also have relevance, and the NPPF should be applied in its totality in this regard.
Justin Gartland is chairman of Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP).