THE MAN leading a government review of national parks came face to face with the concerns of New Forest people when he visited as part of a national tour.
Julian Glover was appointed in May by environment secretary Michael Gove to lead a panel assessing how management of England’s iconic countryside could be “improved” on issues such as housing, transport, access and habitats.
As part of the review, which is now open for public comments, Mr Glover came to the New Forest where he met local leaders and discussed affordable housing for commoners with Official Verderer Lord Manners and Tony Hockley, chair of the Commoners Defence Association.
As reported in the A&T, development is high on the agenda locally as the New Forest National Park Authority is proposing in its draft Local Plan an annual housebuilding rate of 40 to try to provide 800 new homes by 2036. The district council is looking at 10,500 in its area.
Average house prices within the park have climbed to double those of Hampshire, reaching £638,018, according to a report by property agents Savills – making the New Forest the most expensive national park in the UK.
Lord Manners told the A&T: “He was keen to understand the workings of the New Forest and the challenges faced by this national park. Those challenges include ensuring that we have viable commoning, given the size of the park and the recreational pressure that we all know it is under.
“He was a good listener and I am hopeful that any recommendations that he makes will be helpful and not harmful to what is a very special place.”
Mr Glover also went horse-riding with commoner Robert Stride and Mr Hockley who said he had shown interest in ensuring affordable housing for the people who help sustain the national park, and to avoid a divide with those moving in from outside.
Mr Hockley said: “As the New Forest has become the country’s least affordable national park, in terms of the gap between local incomes and local property values, we made sure that we showed him what is being achieved in securing commoning properties.”
The landscape review of 10 national parks and 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty will give the public their first chance to have a say in nearly 70 years, according to Defra.
New Forest NPA chief executive Alison Barnes said: “The panel’s visit to the New Forest was very much an opportunity for commoners, businesses and other organisations working on conservation for the Forest to talk to the panel as well as us.
“There is now a chance for more people to input on the future of protected landscapes in England through the panel’s call for evidence.”
Mr Glover described England’s protected landscapes as “rich in beauty, local life, plants and animals – and enjoyed by millions of people.
“But already, in this review, I’ve seen the pressures too. Local people need jobs and housing, farmers who look after the landscapes need help to survive, and biodiversity is under threat as the numbers of things such as birds and butterflies decline.
“The good news is that I know we can do better – and in this review we are hearing lots of ideas about how to do it.”
A Defra spokesperson said it will also look at the possibility of expansion, adding: “Weakening or undermining the existing protections or geographic scope is not part of this review.”
Mr Glover is associate editor at the London Evening Standard, a Guardian columnist, and biographer of 18th and 19th century industrialist Thomas Telford. He has also worked as a special adviser in Number 10 and the Department for Transport.
The call for evidence closes on 18th December before Mr Glover’s review panel reports back next year with recommendations.
To comment go to consult.defra.gov.uk/land-use/landscapes-review-call-for-evidence.