§ 3.12 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what guidance or instructions they have given to planning and highway authorities responsible for National Parks to ensure that, in the efforts to cater for the ever-increasing motor traffic, by a policy of widening and straightening all the by-roads, they do not do irreparable damage to areas whose character and value depends essentially on freedom from "development" and engineering works.]
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, none. I know of no policy of widening and straightening all by-roads. Indeed, I understand that it is the view of the Minister of Transport that the location and design of such improvements as are necessary should blend in as well as possible with the landscape. I am confident that the park planning authorities and the National Parks Commission are alive to the need to reconcile, wherever possible, the demands of traffic with their responsibility for the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the encouragement of the enjoyment of the national parks.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his Answer is highly unsatisfactory; that there is often great difficulty, in that the planning authority and the highway authority within National Parks are not the same authority but different county authorities? Further, does he not appreciate that, with the ever-increasing motor traffic on our roads—and we want the greatest number of people to come and enjoy the National Parks—there is a danger, through a policy of over-improving byroads, that those who come to enjoy them will also come and destroy them by turning these areas into vast car parks. Other countries are tackling this problem. Will he have another look at it because it really is urgent?
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we appreciate the real importance of this matter, and I agree its urgency. It is primarily the business of the National Parks Commission, as I see it, and we shall have to consider that in the course of the development of National Parks. In one sense, there is an inevitable conflict between the demands of traffic and the use of National Parks for amenity purposes. There is statutory power to restrict traffic in certain cases. But this is a complicated matter. The situation differs in different areas. I hope that the noble Lord will take it from me that it is much in the minds of the Ministers concerned, and in their minds as an urgent matter.
My Lords one last point. May I say that I appreciate that there is a conflict, but would the noble Lord read the last Report of the National Parks Commission, in which the need for action on these lines is set out quite clearly?
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, all I want to ask the noble Lord is whether he does not agree that there are far too many differing authorities in this country dealing with far too many similar matters? And does he not think that the Government should take some steps to effect a greater concentration of power, so that decisions can be taken by one authority instead of by about 23?
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, that is what we are concerned with now. It is in order to get one authority that we have had the National Parks Act and the authority which looks after National Parks. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, would not wish the Ministry of Transport, for instance, to have unrestricted power over National Parks. They regulate the traffic through them, but there are other considerations. I should have thought that in a modern community conflicts of interest and functions of this kind were inevitable, and that it was the business of a wise and sensible Government to do its best to reconcile them in the public interest.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, while I sympathise greatly with my noble friend's anxiety, would the noble Lord not agree that when the development of Park Lane, with plans for the North and South lanes in Hyde Park, was announced, there was a terrific outcry? It was said that irreparable damage would be done to the Park, but in fact, there was no such irreparable damage?
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, all I can say is that, in spite of its name, Park Lane is not a National Park.