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Lord Rotherwick: I thank Members of the Committee who have spoken to the three amendments. I am grateful for the support for Amendment No. 1, but it is not possible to accept it because it has not achieved the consensus of the whole Committee. We may return to that issue.
On Amendment No. 2, as my noble friend Lord Jopling said, it is extremely important that we go back to the point about accepting "sustaining livelihood". We are going in the same direction; that is, that we are both anxious not to be stuck in the past, but to be moving forward. I am sure that at the end of the day we shall devise a solution with which we all agree.
We all accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, told me. None of us expected this to become law. It would be a pleasant surprise if it went to the other place in early July and no one objected. I am enough of a realist to know that as, I am sure, is everyone else here today.
My aim was to set out a template with noble and like-minded friends as to which areas of outstanding natural beauty may find it useful in the future as a means of setting up a conservation board, if that were the wish of local people, local authorities in the area, local amenity groups and so forth.
I stress the point strongly. Comment was made in the Second Reading debate about this being prescriptive. My noble friend Lord Marlesford made the point that it is very definitely not so. This is intended as an opt-in arrangement. It would be a template for those AONBs whose local people think that a conservation board would be useful to have a template. They could then say to the Secretary of State, "This exists. Why do you not now pass secondary legislation to enable us to set up a conservation board that particularly suits us, with representation from local people, from the NFU, from the CLA and such-like?".
The reason for that was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, just now when she told us not necessarily to expect any announcement from the Government this side of the Summer Recess. It was only yesterday that I heard Michael Meacher, the Minister for the Environment, saying at a conference to launch the Countryside Agency that he expected "pretty soon" to announce a package that AONBs and national parks would find very interesting, and by "pretty soon", he meant this side of the Summer Recess. In 24 hours the views of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have obviously changed. That is very worrying for some of us involved with AONBs.
We were very interested 12 months ago when the Countryside Agency published its proposals on the future structure of AONBs. That is a pattern which I have followed in this Private Member's Bill, with some personal alterations for which I take responsibility. When these proposals were announced we were told that the Government would respond "very soon". Very soon became "later", and it has now gone down in history that when Michael Meacher--or Alan Meale, another Minister in the DETR--was asked to define the difference between "very soon" and "soon" he said, "Very soon is sooner than soon". We now have the "pretty soon", and that has gone as well.
There is a problem here for some AONBs. The Sussex Downs is one such area where I am chairman of the conservation board. I suspect the Chilterns is another of those areas. Currently we find ourselves in a position in which we are very much dependent on local authority
From my own experience of 18 months as chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, a job which I inherited from the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who had performed it extremely well for five years, I have learned that that board concentrates on the values of conservation, enhancement and restoration of landscapes, and encouraging biodiversity. That is very much within the context of a living and active community. No one that I know in Sussex talks about AONBs as being a chocolate-box rural scenery. It is not in our language; it is not in our thinking.
I would point out to my noble friend Lord Jopling that my objection to the use of the word "livelihoods" is that Amendment No. 2 would refer to the continuing conservation of their livelihood. That is what I mean about looking backwards rather than forwards. I do not believe that that is appropriate. The AONBs must look forward and consider how, with the pressures on farming today--sheep farming is the speciality of the South Downs and industrial development presses in on that beautiful narrow belt of downland, only four miles wide, stretching from Winchester to Eastbourne--we shall conserve, enhance and protect it for the next century within the context of people working there, having a livelihood and keeping a community alive. The pressures are so great that it is not easy to see how we shall do that. We need a strong voice in strategic planning which is referred to in the Bill. However, in our judgment, we do not need to be the sole planning authority. Quiet enjoyment and improving access for walkers, bikers and riders also must be part of our objective.
In putting down the purpose of designating areas of outstanding natural beauty, it was my wish to do so. The Countryside Commission would have preferred me to stick to the existing words: for the purposes of preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas specified in subsection (1) of the national parks Act.
We need to go further than that. That definition was written 50 years ago. AONBs have moved on too and we must expose AONBs to the argument as regards their purpose now. When the national parks Act was passed 50 years ago, it set up national parks and a system for running them. It set up AONBs but no system for managing or funding them. That is the situation we are
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Government well understand references to the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and I was remiss earlier in not responding to the query about PPG7. It was quoted correctly and neither the words "intrusive" nor "incongruous and insensitive" are compatible with current planning guidance, which is why we would wish to look very carefully at the possibility of the introduction of any new concepts such as these.
I appreciate the stress on urgency which the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has reiterated today. From my short experience of your Lordships' House, compared with that of the noble Lord, if anyone were to be able to define to the exact day or week the meaning of "soon", "pretty soon" or "fairly soon", pretty soon the civil servants would come up with another term which was not as capable of precision. The noble Lord's first experience leads him to understand that it is impossible to be that precise in a department where work is being considered carefully.
Lord Jopling: I have listened with great care to my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry explaining the background to the Bill, as I did at Second Reading. I am sorry to appear so querulous and difficult about this Bill but one particular phrase was used to which the noble Lord referred twice in his remarks. He began by saying that these boards would only be set up if it was the wish of the local people. Can he say where, in his Bill, it is made clear that these boards will only be set up at the wish of the local people? Since he spoke, I have not had time to go through every paragraph of the Bill, but I cannot recall it being stated that they would only be set up if it was the wish of the local people.
I make this point because I referred to this situation at Second Reading. Around 10 years ago the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty was created and there was massive local opposition to it. A good many changes were made in the proposal at that time, which to a certain extent allayed local opinion. But the truth is that when the North Pennines AONB was set up, it did not have the support of local people. Both I and my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, whose former constituency was also affected, were involved in all that and neither of us was at all happy about it. The previous government did, however, push through--against local opinion--the creation of that area of outstanding natural beauty.
I stress that I detected no desire from the AONBs for boards of this sort, except on very few occasions. It may be that the Sussex Downs AONB board is running out of money but it does not seem a good enough reason to have this new layer of democracy foisted on areas which do not want it. I would be most grateful to know from the noble Lord what is different here that would prevent government again from overriding the wishes of the local people.
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