New Forest East



By Julian Lewis

Southern Daily Echo – 13 November 2009

In 1981, three railway workers who had been sacked for refusing to join a union won a landmark legal victory in a European court. This helped to abolish the so-called 'closed shop'. Curiously, the people who backed the case were strong Eurosceptics, like the late Norris McWhirter, who did not approve of European courts in principle.

Yet, Norris saw no contradiction in using such a body – whose existence he regretted – to promote a good cause. This is surely sensible: just because one would prefer an organisation not to exist, that is no reason for failing to use it to do what good it can. Exactly the same applies to the National Park Authority (NPA).

When it was first proposed, my colleague Desmond Swayne MP and I predicted that it would be a top-down bureaucracy, imposing its will on the many local interests and groups which traditionally have had to proceed by interaction and consensus. And so it turned out – with a vengeance.

A certain type of outlook quickly achieved far too much influence within the NPA, and this led to draconian attempts to micro-manage Forest life, oppress horse-riders and dog-walkers, and generally interfere with people's freedom to live their lives and pursue their own paths in our lovely area.

As I stated at its recent public meeting, the National Park Authority is currently on probation – under its able, but temporary, chief executive Barrie Foley. I have suggested three things which the NPA could do to maximise its own prospects of survival and acceptance:

  • First hand back planning powers which should never have been taken from the District Council.
  • Secondly share offices side-by-side with the District Council.
  • Thirdly include Dibden Bay within the boundaries of the Park.

I have not changed my mind about the NPA: it should not exist, as it is the wrong model to run the New Forest. But, as long as it is still with us, I intend to extract every drop of possible usefulness which this unsuitable organisation has to offer.