This blog was written for and first appeared on the Glasgow City National Park website. To see the original and find out more about a National Park in Glasgow see the website.
I am excited about the idea of National Park Cities, I am excited about anything which protects, increases and improves the green spaces we have. I believe we need to encourage more people to value our natural heritage and get more people out enjoying the great outdoors. The concept of a Glasgow City National Park is in early stages. The exciting thing about the movement is collecting people’s thoughts, ideas, and imaginings of what a ‘City National Park’ could be.
But part of my brain just won’t let go of boring functional questions – what would a Glasgow City National Park actually mean, how would it be managed, would there be a national park authority in Glasgow and how would they decide the difficult planning issues which underlie the biggest challenges in many of our existing traditional national parks?
I’m not suggesting I have the answers to these questions. But for those of you – who like me – get bothered by practicalities, here are some thoughts.
Where have National Parks come from?
Scottish-born John Muir spearheaded the effort to create Yosemite National Park in the US. This developed the traditional notion of national parks as areas of ‘wilderness’. Creating these wilderness areas often involved moving people out, stopping development and protecting the wildness of a place. This clearly couldn’t apply to Glasgow – it is not a wilderness and no one is proposing kicking people out of it. However UK National Parks are not wildernesses either. They are living, working ‘cultural landscapes’ which exist balancing (sometimes difficultly) the support of wildlife, protection of landscapes, visitor management and creating sustainable livelihoods for local people.
In Scotland the majority of the land in National Parks is in private ownership and has been worked by humans for thousands of years where forestry and grazing, mining and even building have resulted in landscapes which are semi-natural. Like their English and Welsh counterparts, the parks in Scotland are effectively “managed landscapes”, and are classified as IUCN Category V Protected Landscapes because of this.
What is a Scottish National Park?
In Scotland it is an area designated for some very specific (and statutory) purposes. Under the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, national parks in Scotland have four aims:
1. To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area
2. To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area
3. To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public
4. To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities
These seem pretty good principles – why should they only apply to national parks? On this basis perhaps the whole of the UK should be a National Park – surely we should always consider these principles, in any area?
As with most things, the devil is in the detail as balancing the, often very different needs, of different stakeholders within a park can highlight difficult compromises and trade-offs between these four aims. Difficult decisions can be found as examples in long running debates such as developing a zip-wire in the Lake District, and mining for gold north of Loch Lomond.
In the case of national parks, guidance is available to help decide these kinds of difficult land-use conflicts, but much of the decision comes down to an individual national park authority.
National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000
The general purpose of the national park authority, as defined in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, is to ensure that these aims are “collectively achieved …in a coordinated way”. Although the four aims have equal status, in accordance with the Sandford Principle, the first aim (conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage) is to be given greater weight when it appears to the park authority that there is irreconcilable conflict with the other aims.
So what would all this mean for a Glasgow City National Park?
What is being talked about at the moment in both Glasgow and London (Greater London National Park) – potentially steers clear of the introduction of new authorities with planning regulations. So what does that leave us with – a National Park lacking authority is perhaps very much just ‘notional’? A ‘paper park’ that is powerless to decide how things develop or how to balance competing needs of sustainable development and nature protection?
But on the other hand maybe what we are looking for is not a national park authority for Glasgow, but a ‘National Park Philosophy’ – an increased recognition, discussion and imagining that cities can focus themselves on the protection of nature, wildlife, landscape and recreational space. An framework for cities to become great places to get outdoors, to find adventure and to experience wildlife and nature.
In the UK, the Lake District National Park calls itself the Adventure Capital, Fort William the Outdoor Capital. These are not statutory, authority driven rules, but they are statements of intent – that planners, companies, residents and other interested parties can work towards to help make that place unique and important. There is no law or authority to decide if they have got it right – the people decide – they vote with their feet. If the Lake District manages to successfully promote itself as the Adventure Capital, and people come, and find adventures and great facilities then the project is working, and people will return. Maybe in the same way if we can talk together about what we want a Glasgow City National Park to be. It is up to us to continue to discuss and implement that philosophy and encourage others to do the same. If this helps make Glasgow a better place to live and visit, if it enhances the value placed on quality green space, and ensures a shared re-imagined vision for Glasgow developed under a National Park City banner – then the project will be a success.
This is why I’m supporting the campaign to make a Glasgow City National Park. Not all change comes about through authorities, guidelines and law, so perhaps the philosophy of a Glasgow City National Park is more important than the boring, functional details of how it might work.