Funding cutbacks threaten parks

13 Jan 00
English National Parks this week warned that the disappointing financial settlement for 2000/01 could delay essential conservation projects and hamper its ability to respond to government priorities.

14 January 2000

Despite several parks bidding for funding increases of as much as 20%, the government has awarded the seven English national park authorities and the special Broads authority a mere 2.5% increase in funding next year.

The government's Comprehensive Spending Review had indicated an increase in line with inflation, but the parks had hoped to share in £16m that was originally unallocated for 2000/01 within the overall countryside budget.

Approved expenditure for the parks, which includes both government grant and levies on parks' local councils, stood at £25.5m in 1999/2000. This will increase by £630,000 next year, although the government has made an additional one-off sum of £400,000 available this year to help authorities fund new projects.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority had put in a bid for an 18% increase in funding. Dave Butterworth, the authority's head of finance and resources, said the actual increase would not even cover pay inflation and could mean cutbacks across its conservation programme.

He warned that the lack of funding would have implications for how the authority responded to government initiatives such as countering social exclusion, improving rural transport and overseeing the right to roam. 'We've had years of real-terms cuts, and parks are now down to doing just the essentials,' he said.

The Dales has identified some £24m of essential maintenance needed over the next ten years on its distinctive dry stone walls and barns. Yet, of its roughly £5m overall annual expenditure, it can typically afford to spend less than £300,000 a year on dry stone work.

Now even these levels of funding are under threat. Of those modest resources, only about a quarter comes directly from the authority, with the rest matched funding from Europe and from bodies such as English Heritage.

Paul Tiplady, national park officer at the Lake District authority, which bid for a 19% increase, also confirmed that the Lakes would now have to make 'hard decisions'.

The three Welsh parks had hoped for an 18% increase in funding. But after last year's standstill budget they are likely to receive 8.3%, which has yet to be confirmed by the Welsh Assembly.


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