The Peak District National Park Authority, one of two English national park authorities chosen by the Government to pilot direct elections, has embraced the principle of local democracy by recommending that all 22 of its council and parish members should be considered for election.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) asked the Peak District and the New Forest to pilot direct elections following a review of the governance of England's 10 national parks, the results of which came out last month (see here on UKH). These changes represent a fairly major shakeup of park governance, though it remains to be seen whether members of the public will notice any difference in their day to day visits to the Peak, one of the most popular and well used of our National Parks.
At present, the Peak District National Park Authority is governed by 30 members, 16 of whom are councillors appointed by district, county and city councils within the national park, six elected by parish councils within the park, and eight appointed by the Defra Secretary of State for their national expertise.
Defra has already ruled out applying direct elections to the Secretary of State-appointed members, who are recruited as experts on major national park issues such as cultural heritage, landscape conservation, recreation management and planning.
But Defra has asked for the Authority's views on how many council or parish members should be directly elected, without increasing the overall size of the Authority.
A majority of members decided it would be wrong to be selective about asking council or parish members to give up their seats, and therefore all 22 should be put forward, and it would be up to Defra to decide.
They also voted on the principles on which direct elections should be held:
- That local residents achieve a greater sense of ownership of Authority decisions
- That elections do not damage the working relationships with local authorities or parish councils
- That the most cost-effective and efficient process should be identified
- That the costs of holding elections should not be borne by the Authority
Authority chair Tony Favell, a High Peak Borough councillor and resident of the national park for 40 years, said:
'There is clearly an argument for direct elections giving local people a greater sense of engagement with the Authority. But we must be extremely careful that the valuable working relationships built up over 60 years with our partners in the local authorities and parishes are not lost in this process.'
At present only two out of the UK's 15 national parks have a proportion of their members directly elected - the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs. In each case they are community members, the equivalent of parish members.