National Park for Shropshire? Councillor says we should grab this opportunity with both hands
Should Shropshire be given a national park? As the Government holds a consultation, Councillor Andy Boddington says we should grab the opportunity with both hands
It was 1978. I was a young archaeologist taking a summer break to cycle around Shropshire. We pushed our bikes up the hill from Abraham Darby’s Iron Bridge to a hotel in Broseley, I forget the name. In the bar that night there was a grumpy conversation going on among locals, people didn’t like the idea of the new town growing on their doorstep. They thought the name Telford, imposed by the Government 10 years before, was stupid.
Four years later, a family visiting Shropshire was snowed in at Coalbrookdale. The parents were also archaeologists and they inspired a love of industrial history in their son. The Iron Bridge Museums Trust was then in its infancy and the area was not yet a World Heritage Site. But the son, Julian Glover, was inspired to eventually write a biography of Shropshire’s County Surveyor, Thomas Telford. Glover’s Man of Iron is an essential read for anyone interested in industrial history and archaeology.
Julian Glover wears more than one hat. He has recently been appointed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to lead a review of national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).
That review is broad ranging. One of its objectives is to consider the case for extending or creating new national parks.
The Glover review has triggered a clamour across the country to put forward new national parks. Shropshire should be in on the act and get a national park that stretches from Ironbridge to the Mortimer Forest. The park should embrace the Titterstone Clee, the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones, Bishop’s Castle and Clun.
Some of these landmarks already lie within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But to be honest the AONB is almost invisible on the tourist map. There are only one or two signs greeting visitors. The hard-working but small AONB management team often don’t have the resources to comment on planning issues, promote the area or cope with environmental degradation. National parks are much better resourced.
There are also areas outside the AONB. The Mortimer Forest was recently threatened by a luxury cabin development. That threat has gone away but the forest desperately needs a long term plan to enrich its biodiversity and landscape.
The future of hill farming has always been uncertain. It is the more so with Brexit looming. We need to work hard to keep our countryside beautiful and to support the people that live and work in the countryside. A national park would help.
Some areas can stand on their own feet in attracting tourism. The Long Mynd, Ironbridge and the Wrekin among them. Many other areas could become better known without destroying them.
National parks attract tourists. They also attract and create new businesses. The local economy is boosted not just in the national park but also the area around it.
There are dangers. Shropshire could become too popular for its own good. But we can learn lessons from other national parks. We should promote sustainable tourism to reduce traffic. We need a better train service. More buses. And we must remember that a lot of tourist traffic crossing our county heading for Snowdonia National Park. We could capture some of that tourist income here.
There have been studies that show that house prices are higher in national parks. But these studies don’t understand that it is not the national park status driving house prices up, it is the beauty and the proximity of that beauty to big cities.
We don’t have a problem of proximity of cities in most of South Shropshire. We do have an affordability problem. Many incomes are low. Many house prices are high. Yet across south Shropshire, developers are only asked to provide 15 per cent affordable housing at the most. This is one of the lowest asks by any council in the country. The strong planning powers granted to national parks could boost the affordable housing delivered, as it has elsewhere.
At this stage, there is no invitation from the government to apply for national park status. But councils and campaigners around the country are preparing their campaigns. Plans are being developed for a Birmingham and Black County National Park. The Chilterns, the Cotswolds, Dorset and the south Pennines have all talked of becoming national parks. Many of them will try to get a mention in Julian Glover’s report to Michael Gove next year.
There is so much beauty in our county that we often forget it’s there. I talk to tourists all the time. They say how beautiful Ludlow is. They love the hills that surround it. I see this all the time. Living in Ludlow, it is impossible to forget that the beauty of our landscape or varied it is. Yet sometimes that beauty is not recognised in planning decisions and national and local polices.
More than a decade ago, I told friends I was leaving Oxfordshire to live in Shropshire. They said, “Where’s that? Is it up north? What’s it like?” I still hear that message around the country.
We should put Shropshire on the map. We should tell the world that we live in an astonishingly beautiful place. I have known that since my cycle tour in 1978. The best way of telling the rest of the world about that beauty right now is to get us national park status.
This is our opportunity. We should grasp it.