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When is a National Park not a National Park?

The High Court’s ruling this month (April 2016) in a claim for judicial review brought by Norfolk landowners Mr Timothy Charles Harris and Mrs Angelika Harris, brings into relief the statutory duties of the Broads Authority and its role as guardians of the unique Broads environment and as a navigation authority. The claim for judicial review challenged a resolution of the Broads Authority passed in January 2015 by which the Authority decided, among other things, that the brand “Broads National Park” be adopted for marketing related purposes. The Claimants objected to the Authority adopting a “National Park” branding while not being designated formally a National Park under the landmark National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and thereby subject to the ‘Sandford Principle’.

The Sandford Principle, derived from the 1974 Report of the National Parks Review Committee chaired by Lord Sandford, states that the first purpose of national parks is the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty and second purpose is the promotion of public enjoyment and where there is acute conflict between the two, the first purpose must prevail “in order that the beauty and ecological qualities of national parks may be maintained.” Given that the Broads is not a ‘National Park’ in the formal sense, the Sandford Principle does not apply to the Broads.

The background to the claim was that, in October 2014, the Broads Authority issued a consultation document regarding the proposed branding of the Broads as a ‘National Park’. The foreword to the Consultation Document proposed that the term “Broads National Park” should in future be used for marketing purposes in order to introduce consistency in the way in which the area is promoted. The Authority received a number of responses to the Consultation Document, including from the Royal Yachting Association, whose submission featured in the High Court judgment. The RYA noted that the Broads “are a vital national asset not only as a place of natural beauty but also for open air recreation and specifically for recreational boating. “ The RYA submission went on to say,

as the consultation paper acknowledges, the existing management and regulation of the Broads, as set out in statute, expressly recognises this by conferring on the Broads Authority particular navigation responsibilities and a specific duty to protect the interests of navigation … and this distinguishes the Broads from national parks in the UK more generally. It is vital that this special status is not altered or watered down in any way. … We note that your consultation paper clearly states that the name change proposed would respect this unique characteristic. As long as that is truly the case and, for example, it does not become and it is not used by the Broads Authority or others as a platform for legislative change … the RYA would not have any difficulty with it."

The High Court dismissed the Claimants’ claim for judicial review. This will be of interest to all of those who run commercial boating operations in the Broads and to those who use the Broads recreationally, for yachting or otherwise. The High Court found that the proposal to use “Broads National Park as a marketing tool was legally compatible with the non-applicability of the Sandford Principle within the Broads (and the Authority’s maintenance of its policy that that should remain the case).

Therefore, to the extent that the Sandford Principle is incompatible with the needs of boating and navigation, and this is far from being a settled issue, for the time being the debate as to the applicability of the Principle to, and its potential effects on boating interests in, the Broads is indeed settled.

The content of this article is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content herein.

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