HC Deb 18 April 2002 vol 383 cc685-6
5. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

What representations have been received from local authorities in response to the New Forest national park designation order. [46513]

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael)

Eight local authorities have submitted representations in relation to the New Forest National Park (Designation) Order 2002. Seven of them raised objections to the boundary, to the proposed administrative arrangements, or to both.

Mr. Chope

In the light of that response, can the Minister confirm that there will be a public inquiry, as the Countryside Agency promised that there would be if concerns were expressed by local authorities? Can he further confirm that that public inquiry's terms of reference will cover not only the issues relating to the boundary, but the controversy surrounding the proposed special administrative arrangements?

Alun Michael

It is not for the Countryside Agency to take decisions about a public inquiry; it is required by the legislation. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 requires that an objection made by a local authority that is not withdrawn will cause a local inquiry to be held. I shall make an announcement about a public inquiry as soon as all the objections to the designated order have been received and fully considered. That is the time at which the detail of the hon. Gentleman's question should be dealt with.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Irrespective of whether the New Forest is designated as a national park, when one approaches the area on many of the major trunk roads one is immediately struck by the number of brown tourist information signs. That is not only relevant to the New Forest, but has a read-across to other parts of the country, including the county of Devon. Rural proofing was mentioned a moment ago. Will the Minister confirm that the Highways Agency does not intend to reduce the number of brown tourist information signs in the New Forest or anywhere else, as we are hearing on our local television stations?

Alun Michael

The hon. Lady should address her question to the relevant Minister, because it is a pretty long stretch from the question that we are dealing with.

National park status recognises the national level of importance of certain areas in terms of landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage, as well as recreational resource. Those are the sorts of features that encourage people to go to those areas, and our policy is to try to ensure that they get the information that they need in order to find those local attractions. The way in which the national parks authorities are engaging with the regeneration of those areas is extremely encouraging.