This is one of my favourite times to explore National Parks and last week I had a fantastic wildlife and cultural odyssey in perhaps the most unexplored member of the family – Northumberland. With a World Heritage Site, the far horizons of the Cheviots, spring lambs galore and plenty of border tart, there’s not much more that I could have asked for from the week.
But I’m back down to earth with a bump already with the red-tape challenge, a public consultation exercise aiming to reduce regulatory burdens on business. At first glance this seemed to spell trouble for some of our most important environmental laws. Of course, major pieces of legislation such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act are unlikely to be axed – the government confirmed over the weekend that it has no plans to remove important environmental protections – but I am perplexed as to why they were ever included on a list of legislation to be reviewed in the first place.
It’s certainly true that some regulations are no longer needed as they have served the purpose for which they were originally introduced. But as with all laws and regulations the devil is definitely in the detail and I question whether the Cabinet Office exercise is really the best way to review and refine green laws?
Inevitably, given the lack of explanation about why such key pieces of legislation were even being considered for review in the first place, there has already been a public backlash.
Now that the NGO community and groups such as 38 degrees have mobilised their people power, I expect that this exercise will not lead to key laws being axed. Rather more worrying is the uni-dimensional view of sustainable development that this seems to have unearthed within the government’s enterprise and business department BIS.
A departmental spokesperson is quoted as saying “We’ve got to look at things from both sides. Yes, there’s the environmental side, but businesses have to deal with these regulations on a daily basis and it takes a lot to grow a business.” Siding with either the environment or business isn’t likely to get us very far down the path of sustainability, nor is it likely to score too highly when the final count comes in on the greenest government ever poll.
Perhaps Business Secretary Vince Cable and his officials ought to take some time this spring to take a look at how the National Parks are demonstrating that a high quality and protected environment not only delivers the goods on wildlife and landscape, but also stimulates the economy and provides a base for businesses to grow sustainably.
The Peak District’s live and work rural programme helps to turn business ideas into reality and supports business development (examples include a green chippy, a llama trekking business and various retail, tourism and farm-based enterprises).
Sustainable Development Funds ensure that each year hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on community projects across the National Parks and AONBs, many of which benefit local businesses. Last week I visited Barrowburn tea room and National Park information point in the heart of the Cheviots, which was supported by that funding.
So while every cupboard needs a bit of a spring clean at this time of year, the shelf of environmental laws needs to be treated very carefully, because if that falls down, several other shelves are likely to tumble with it.