Earlier in the week the Chancellor George Osborne presented his spending review – a hugely important speech as it sets out how Government money will be spent over the next 5 years.
“Our commitment to farming and the countryside is reflected in the protection of funding for our national parks and for our forests. We’re not making that mistake again….”
A reference to the backlash the last Government faced when it tried to sell of the Forest Estate. I think it also shows that the Government acknowledges the huge public support for the countryside and as a result has singled it out for special treatment.
On the face of it it looks like the environment has done a great deal better than we had all been fearing. At one point it looked like DEFRA was going to receive a 32% cut in its budget up to 2020. It turned out to be a ‘mere’ 15%. In addition the budget settlements for National Parks, AONBs and the Forestry Commission have been ring fenced for 5 years i.e. there will be no cuts to their funding. This is very welcome and is good news. In addition the Environment Agency’s flood defence budget is also protected – let’s hope that flood defence also includes ‘up stream’ solutions such as holding water higher up in catchments rather than only relying on dredging and new infrastructure.
However the future of Natural England is less certain – they are a hugely important organisation overseeing our protected places and species. They will be subject to cuts on top of the savage ones they have already seen. Natural England is a shadow of its former self and predecessor organisations (e.g. The Nature Conservancy Council). Without a strong NE conserving special places on Dartmoor will be much more difficult for everyone else such as the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the National Trust.
Much of this is positive but often with announcements such as this, the devil is in the detail and the detail tends to emerge in drips and splashes over an extended period of time. Yesterday I was at the Dartmoor Forum organised by the DNPA and during the questions session I asked Kevin Bishop their Chief Executive what he thought the Spending Review meant for Dartmoor. He was clearly very relieved with the news as he had been preparing for deep cuts of up to 40%. He also said that the settlement gave stability for 5 years which meant the Authority could forward plan. He did comment that the announcement didn’t say that the DNPA was protected only that National Park budgets were. A couple of National Parks have been extended in size so maybe they might get a bit more money at the expense of those that have remained as they are. Kevin also commented that DEFRA had suggested that all National Parks would know their budgets before Christmas. Lets see what happens next!