THE NEW FOREST NATIONAL PARK – 13 July 2004
Dr Julian Lewis: As well as trying to be as brief as possible, I shall try to be as positive as possible. I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Desmond Swayne), who is at this moment having to debate a Statutory Instrument in another part of the Palace of Westminster.
The announcement that the New Forest is going to become a National Park has made a small group of my Constituents very happy indeed. That is the New Forest East Labour Party, the only group in my Constituency who consistently wished for, desired and campaigned for a National Park model for the New Forest. I pay sincere tribute to Mr Peter Sopowski, the former Chairman of the New Forest East Labour Party, and Mr Alan Goodfellow, my former opponent at General Elections, because they are the only people who have consistently wanted this solution. If it works out well, it will reflect great credit on them in the future.
Most other groups in my Constituency and in the New Forest area as a whole did not want this solution. That does not mean that they did not want the New Forest to be protected, but they wanted it to be protected in the future in the way in which it has traditionally been protected in the past: through special legislation. They were concerned that if a National Park model were imposed on the New Forest, it would lead to rigidity, bureaucracy and the overriding of the former, consensual way of running the New Forest by a compulsory way of running it. Everything will depend in the future on the sensitivity and self-restraint shown by the people in the National Park Authority.
The Labour Government have a democratic mandate to carry this proposal out. They announced before the last General Election that they proposed to create a National Park in the New Forest, and having won that General Election, they can claim a democratic mandate for what has now been done. It was never the case that the public inquiry into the proposed New Forest National Park would turn it down on the basis that a National Park was not the best way forward for the New Forest. The purpose of that public inquiry, as I said at the time, was simply to see whether the New Forest measured up to the criteria necessary to become a National Park, and of course it did.
However, after the General Election, when I went to see the Minister's predecessor – who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland South (Chris Mullin) – he made me this promise. He said: "Julian, there will be a National Park for the New Forest, but we are open to persuasion as to how it might be tweaked and tailored to suit the New Forest's particular needs."
That is why, in the few seconds that remain to me, I want to express surprise that a site of Special Scientific Interest such as Dibden Bay has been excluded from the National Park, whereas Fawley Power Station has been included. According to a quote from the Minister (Alun Michael) in the local press, that is because otherwise
"We would have a hole in the map just because there happens to be a power station there."
I only hope that we do not, as a result, see a renewed assault on that triple-SI, which only recently was, thank goodness, saved from port development.
Finally, I draw the Minister's attention to the press release from New Forest District Council. The Chief Executive, Mr Dave Yates, commented:
"The Inspector appears to have accepted that it would be a good thing if the development control arrangements within the National Park were delegated back to the local authority. However, we understand that the Minister has not made any final recommendation on this".
I, for one, would take it as fulfilment of the promise made to me by the Minister's predecessor if he gave a positive response on that all-important concern.