Bruising Encounter in the Senedd

John Osmond finds National Park Authority members dismayed by their reception in the National Assembly

Delegates meeting at the annual gathering of the Welsh Association of National Parks in Cardiff had a bruising encounter in the Senedd the other evening. They met with a cross-party group of backbench AMs for an exchange of views  and came away, confounded, not to say astonished, at the  level of “ignorance and arrogance” they encountered. Caerwyn Roberts, Chairman of the Snowdonia National Park Authority, pronounced, “I was shocked by the lack of knowledge they had about rural Wales.”

One AM told them that she knew a lot about National Parks because she regularly drives through one. Another said he felt comfortable with the policy agenda because he had stood as a Parliamentary candidate in a constituency that included part of a Brecon Beacons National Park. A third thought the Cambrian Mountains were a National Park when it has no protected area status, though the Cambrian Mountains Society is campaigning for it to become an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

It seems the AMs were most concerned by what they had encountered from constituents about their difficulties with alleged intransigence of National Parks when dealing with planning applications.  This is despite the fact that only 10 per cent of applications are called in, and more than 90 per cent of those are dealt with satisfactorily.

The politicians at the meeting, hosted by Presiding Officer Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, were Joyce Watson, Labour AM for Mid and West Wales; Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid AM for Carmarthen East; Mick Bates, Liberal Democrat AM for Montgomery; and Andrew R. Davies, Conservative AM for South Wales Central.

At the National Parks Association conference in Cardiff today Christine Gwyther, a member of the Pembrokeshire National Park Authority and former Labour AM for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, pointed out that the meeting had been with backbench AMs and not representatives of the Welsh Government who, she was sure would have been more up-to-speed with the issues. However, she added, “We’ve all been used to working with a rural/urban divide – having to prove ourselves to urban politicians. Now we are realising that we are going to have to prove ourselves to rural politicians as well.”

Caerwyn Roberts agreed. “We have a huge responsibility to perform an ambassadorial role,” he said. Their chance will come in the New Year when the National Parks will be scrutinised by the Rural Development Sub-committee whose membership includes Mick Bates and Rhodri Glyn Thomas. That should prove an interesting session.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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