Northumberland National Park Authority has announced the abandonment of a legal challenge recently mounted against the Government for failing to adequately consult and to properly apply the National Park funding formula in deciding on cuts to the budgets of National Park Authorities in England.
The Authority issued a pre-action Letter of Claim to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in respect of its funding settlement on 17 February, believing that the Secretary of State's decision had a disproportionate impact on Northumberland National Park. The budget reduction resulted in a fifty per cent cut in the management of the Authority, major reductions in staffing and cutbacks to key services such as visitor centres and footpath maintenance, the knock-on effects of which will be felt by residents, tourism businesses and visitors.
During this and the next four years English National Parks will see around 33% cuts in real terms in their funding from Defra. Northumberland is the least funded National Park Authority, and as it is currently under-funded according to Defra's own funding formula it arguably faces a particularly significant impact. The National Park encompasses some of England's wildest upland areas, its attractions for walkers including The Cheviot and the iconic central section of Hadrian's Wall, a World Heritage Site. Three major long distance trails cross the area; the Pennine Way, Hadrian's Wall Path and St.Cuthbert's Way.
Whilst openly disatisfied with the Government's response, the Authority has now reconsidered their action, citing the potential consequences to their work of initiating legal proceedings at a time of significant change and resource squeeze.
John Riddle, Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority said:
'The Authority has decided that its current priority is to use its limited resources to address the significant challenges required by budget reductions. We are deeply concerned, however, that if the allocation of funding for national parks is not addressed and revised, it is likely that future funding decisions will have an even greater detrimental effect on the least-funded national park which is Northumberland.'
Tony Gates, Chief Executive of the Authority concluded:
'The fair allocation of available resources across the national park family in England is something we will continue to press for.'
The Authority has now asked Defra for a meeting to discuss the issues arising from this pre action correspondence including the continued under funding of Northumberland National Park, the implementation or withdrawal of the funding formula going forward, and any future requirement of Defra to consult with the individual National Park authorities on their specific circumstances.
The full impact of the budget squeeze on the management and maintenance of all Britain's National Parks is yet to be clear.