Minister Rory Stewart today [8 July] said that Government officials were “very comfortable” with the move to call the Broads a National Park.
The Defra Minister in charge of National Parks added that the title was a “common sense term” which allowed the public to understand the protected status and special qualities of the Broads.
Mr Stewart was responding to questions raised by Broadland MP Keith Simpson who tabled a half hour debate at Westminster Hall focusing on the branding and direct elections of Broads Authority members.
Mr Simpson questioned the Minister about whether the bill announced in the last Queen’s speech concerning direct elections was to be taken forward, arguing for more accountability among members of National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority.
He also asked the Minister what the legal status of the Broads was in the light of the recent branding initiative which applied to the area only, pressing the Minister for a clear statement on these two issues.
Mr Stewart said that “Defra does not wish for the Broads Authority to be controlled by National Park legislation” because of the Authority’s additional navigation responsibility and the fact that the Broads is not subject to the Sandford Principle like other members of the National Parks family.
The Authority has already made it clear that it will not be adopting the Sandford Principle, which requires greater weight to be given to conservation rather than recreation if there is an irreconcilable conflict between the two. Instead its three purposes, including navigation, will continue to carry equal weight.
“We do recognise the power of the national and international National Park brand and the value that using it for the Broads can bring but this should not detract from navigation responsibilities,” said Mr Stewart.
“We are very comfortable with the Broads calling itself a National Park, it is a common sense term for the public to understand that the Broads is a protected area with the qualities of a National Park, and we are proud of the Broads Authority which is not a second class authority.”
Mr Stewart also praised the work of the Authority in balancing its environmental, tourism and navigation interests and quoted Ted Ellis in calling it a breathing space for the cure of souls.
He confirmed that the Government does not intend to bring forward any legislation on the matter of direct elections and praised the existing accountability that Broads Authority members already have through locally elected councillors and toll payers.
Jacquie Burgess, Chairman of the Broads Authority, welcomed the Minister’s comments.
She said: “The Broads has equivalent National Park status and the area fully merits the title, which will have no impact on the balance of the Authority’s purposes. National Park is shorthand for a place that is special, is properly looked after and deserves to be valued by everyone.
“Mr Stewart’s comprehensive understanding of the situation and his comments are extremely helpful and to be welcomed.”
On the accountability issue, Professor Burgess said nine out of 21 Authority members are elected councillors from all the constituent local authorities. One third of the Authority's members are toll payers, including the two most recent Secretary of State appointed members.
“We also consult locally on a wide range of issues and have a number of engagement mechanisms like our parish forums and the Broads Forum,” said Professor Burgess.