Frank Hooley – 1978 Speech on the Peak District National Park

Below is the text of the speech made by Frank Hooley, the then Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, in the House of Commons on 10 July 1978.

I believe that one of the great Socialist achievements of the post-war Labour Government was the creation of the national parks. The Peak District national park is unique in two respects. First, it is like a nut in a nut cracker, the jaws of which are the great industrial conurbations of South Lancashire and South Yorkshire. Secondly, the Peak park planning board is both a national park authority and a planning authority. In this latter capacity it has recently produced a structure plan to determine ​ developments for the future of the park into the 1990s, after meticulous consultation with interested bodies and the general public.

In this regard, I should like to quote a brief sentence from a recent Fabian pamphlet on national parks which records the view:

“On all counts the park that comes out by far the best is the Peak District…Its success in provision for the public and care for the land under its remit and in the initiatives it has taken and is taking in recreation is by any yardstick remarkable.”

The whole raison d’être of the national parks is to conserve and defend some part of our country from the kind of development that we are obliged to tolerate elsewhere as the price of an industrial society and to defend it also from the ravages caused by the indiscriminate pursuit of each and every form of recreation that ingenuity can devise and commerce profit from. The board endeavours to satisfy these two aims, but in no way ignores the reasonable demands for recreation, holiday caravans, homes, jobs and the national need for minerals.

The response of the Secretary of State to the board’s recent proposals has alarmed and dismayed a great number of bodies and persons who are passionately concerned about the future of the park. These bodies include the Council for National Parks, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the National Trust, many private individuals and the National Farmers Union, which has made direct representations to me on this matter.

There are three main areas of serious concern: first, the extraction of minerals; secondly, the problems of recreation; thirdly, houses and jobs.

The question of mineral working is the crunch issue between the board and the Minister, and its eventual resolution will, in my view, determine just how far the Secretary of State is fully and truly committed to the concept of a national park.

The board forthrightly says:

“There will be a general presumption against new mineral workings or extensions of existing mineral working activities in the park.”

It then goes on to apply two clear firm tests for the determination of any future applications for mineral extraction.

First, is it vital to the public interest? Secondly, is it clear beyond doubt that there are no ​ practicable alternative sources of supply? Anyone who has seen the ghastly ravages of limestone quarrying already taking place in the park must endorse these two criteria.

The report of the national parks policy review committee—the Sandford report —itself emphasised that:

“a fundamental conflict exists between the purposes of national parks and large scale industrial development”.

It goes on to say:

“The presumption against development which would be out of accord with park purposes must be strong throughout the whole of the parks”.

The Secretary of State appears to reject both criteria on the grounds that:

“it would be impracticable to require applicants to prove that their proposals were vital in the public interest or that there were no practicable alternative sources of supply”.

of the mineral concerned.

I suggest that any competent geologist could give evidence on the second point and that it should not be such a very abstruse calculation to determine the economics of a particular application and the alternatives. As regards the public interest, the very creation and preservation of the national parks are themselves supremely acts in the public interest and ex hypothesi the onus should be placed on those who would tear it to pieces to prove that their proposals are no less vital to the public interest before being allowed to go ahead.

If the Secretary of State for the Environment is now going to throw all the weight and authority of his important office against the considered judgment of a unique national park planning board, which has a quarter of a century of experience in trying to cope with the vast economic power and vested interests of mining companies, the future outlook for national parks is bleak. The general presumption against, which is the planning board’s policy, should stand.

However, with regard to minerals there are two particular problems. The board accepts the need for limestone working for chemical, steel, cement and some other industrial uses, but points out that these add up to only 47 per cent. of the rock extracted—chemical 22 per cent., steel, 10 per cent., cement and other uses, 15 per cent. The rest, more than half, is used as aggregate, especially for road building, ​ and the board objects to this, proposing to limit planning permission to the need to supply industries

“requiring the unique properties of high purity limestone”.

The use of this valuable material for road building has been a national scandal for some time, especially as there are in the United Kingdom vast spoil heaps which could be made to yield up material for this purpose.

Various Government committees—the Stevens committee and the Verney committee—have looked into the question of sensible controlled mineral working and a national policy on aggregates supply. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State argues that it is not possible to regulate the end use of minerals by planning control. But he recently made a decision on mineral workings at Tunstead, near Buxton, which was entirely based on ICI’s need for high purity limestone for use in the chemical industry. The need for aggregates was not upheld.

In these days, when conservation of raw materials, sources of supply, recycling and similar problems are coming more and more to the fore, the Secretary of State’s curious abdication of effective planning control over mineral extraction is alarming, and the more robust approach of the planning board is much to be preferred.

The working of fluorspar is a more difficult problem than limestone, because 86 per cent. of United Kingdom deposits of this material are in the Peak park, and it is an important material for steel and aluminium production. It is also used in the petrol, chemical and ceramics industries.

However, a significant proportion of current fluorspar production from the Peak is exported overseas. The board argues with some cogency that the nation’s interests might be better served by retaining known resources of this relatively rare mineral for future use rather than going for a short-term gain in export earnings, which have declined in each of the past three years, and amount to only about £1¼ million.

The Secretary of State seems to fall back on a vague phrase about proposals for working fluorspar being considered on their merits. He rejects suggested controls by the planning board to enforce the least damaging methods of operation. In my view, this would constitute a green light to the mining companies to go ahead with their plans and ignore environmental considerations.

I turn to the question of recreation. In any area designated as a national park there must of necessity arise some conflict between the almost infinite demands for recreation and the basic need to conserve the character of the park and its natural beauty. The planning board is not indifferent to the rising demand for recreation. The number of visitors over the past 10 years has trebled, to about 16 million each year, but the board takes the view that there must be some limits if the overriding duty to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the park is to be discharged effectively.

The Secretary of State appears to think that recreational use should be pushed to the maximum compatible with natural beauty, and suggests that the scale of provision be increased to a level of use without significant detriment to its character and environment. These phrases would seem to me to imply that the demand for recreation takes priority over the principle of conservation of the park, and if this argument is accepted it would over a period of time undermine the whole purpose of the creation of the national parks.

The planning board makes a presumption against new sites for static caravans. The major objection to static caravans is that they constitute a permanent intrusion on the landscape even when not in use. Moreover, there is abundant scope for such sites outside the park but within easy access of it.

As regards touring caravans, the board wants firm control and discussions with surrounding local authorities to secure sites outside but within easy reach of the park. As the owner of a small touring caravan myself, I would be quite happy to use a site near, but outside, the park. By definition, people with touring caravans have cars to travel within the park if they wish.

The board stresses that the object of residential development, of new housing, will be to meet local need and safeguard the interests of local people, which seems sensible. The Secretary of State appears ​ to be more concerned to cater for commuters, ignoring the problems which have already been created by the pressure of external demand on the housing stock in the park, to the detriment of local people. This is not a problem peculiar to the Peak park. People in parts of Wales have complained bitterly that cottages and bungalows have been bought up as country residences at prices way beyond the pockets of Welsh people who would have liked to buy them. Providing housing for the commuter may be a normal feature of life in the south-east. It is not an appropriate policy for a national park. I referred earlier to the Fabian pamphlet on the subject of the parks. This stresses that

“Local unemployment can only really be solved by the introduction of long-term smaller industries suited to the locality.”

The board for its part makes it explicit that it is not opposed to industrial development but wishes to ensure that it is on a form and scale appropriate to the needs of particular parts of the park to offset the decline in jobs offered by mineral working and agriculture.

The Secretary of State seems to me to delete the careful safeguards spelt out by the board and to substitute a dangerously loose phrase about employment opportunities that could be accommodated with significant detriment to the character of the locality. This could just be a matter of wording, but in that case I prefer the more precise phraseology of the board to the vaguer terms suggested by Whitehall.

The strength of the structure plan as drawn up by the planning board is that it seeks to build firm, strong defences against developments that, may be blatantly, may be insidiously, erode the character and beauty of the park For this reason, the board is against additional static caravans, against the maximum exploitation of the park for recreation, opposed to new mineral working, and concerned to keep very tight control on industrial and residential development. The Secretary of State appears to want no hard lines, vague criteria and everything considered on its merits. In my judgment, since we are dealing with so unique and irreplaceable an entity as the Peak District national park, a great national asset, the planning board’s approach is right and the Secretary of State’s attitude, as evidenced so far in his comments on the plan, is dangerous and unsound.