Led by Julian Glover, the Landscapes Review reveals that the governance of England’s National Parks and AONB needs to be drastically reformed. It finds that the boards of National Parks are too big, failing to set a strategic direction and not at all representative of England’s diverse communities.

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Lack of diversity

The Landscapes Review praises the great work of many of the brilliant board members of England’s National Parks and AONB, but highlights that: “Of the almost 1,000 people on National Park and AONB boards today, the great majority are male, many are of retirement age and a tiny fraction are of black, Asian or minority ethnicities. This is wrong for organisations which are funded by the nation to serve everyone.”

Collectively, 64 is the average age of board members and there are almost 2.5 males to every female represented. While black, Asian and minority ethnic members make up just 0.9% of boards. This problem is compounded with a very low turnover of board members, with many serving for decades.

Bloated boards

The Landscapes Review finds that the boards of England’s National Parks are far too large to be effective. There are currently 220 board members spread across the ten National Parks, governing a collective core budget of £48.74 million. In comparison, the Arts Council distributes £576.5 million under three funding streams and is run with a non-executive board of 14 members.

Bureaucracy overload

The Review finds that the boards spend too much time on planning and day-to-day administration and not enough time on strategy. It states: “A disproportionate amount of time is taken up with broad procedural and bureaucratic matters, such as corporate planning, standards, subcommittee appointments and minutes and the like. Planning matters also featured prominently. We found less evidence of matters related to landscape and biodiversity or to access and recreation.”

The proposed reforms of the governance of England’s National Parks and AONB

The Landscapes Review proposes the following changes:

  • National Parks should be governed by smaller 9-12 person boards, in line with best practice in governance as recommended for charities and companies and other models of public sector governance.
  • The Secretary of State for Defra should appoint the chairs after a process led by the National Landscapes Service. Other members should be appointed by the National Landscapes Service working with the relevant national landscape.
  • The board should be advised by a partnership group of all stakeholders to ensure it is aware of a wide range of interests and specialist expertise. Every National Park should have a partnership group that works alongside the main board, similar to a model already in place in the Lake District National Park.
  • Members of boards are selected for their passion, skills and experience including biodiversity, natural beauty, culture, leisure, education, and community. Every effort should be made to achieve diversity – of social background, gender, age, ethnicity and (dis)ability.
  • The main task of each board would be to prepare and drive ambitious delivery of management plans, delivering for nature, people and community.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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