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A new Quango for England's countryside

[Friday 31 March 2006]

A new Quango for the English countryside has come a step closer.

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill received Royal Assent from the Queen yesterday; the archaic procedure means that the Bill now officially becomes law as an Act of Parliament.

"The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act will help achieve our vision of thriving rural communities, fair access to services and a rich and diverse natural environment," said Margaret Becket, Secretary of State for Rural Affairs.

Natural England: the new guardian of England's countryside
Natural England: the new guardian of England's

"At its heart is the principle of sustainable development: meeting the needs of people today while laying the foundations for future generations to enjoy and benefit from a healthy natural environment and sustainable communities."

The passing of the Bill in to law paves the way for a new statutory body, charged with enhancing and conserving England's natural environment.

Natural England will combine the whole of English Nature with the landscape, access and recreation elements of the Countryside Agency and the environmental land management functions of the Rural Development Service (RDS).

Although officially coming in to existence in October this year, the three current organisations are already working together in many areas in anticipation of the role that Natural England will play in wide range of areas impacting on the countryside, including nature conservation, biodiversity, resource management and access and recreation.

"The Act sets up Natural England as a powerful champion for the natural environment, bringing together the strengths of English Nature, parts of the Countryside Agency, and most of the Rural Development Service to conserve and enhance our landscapes and biodiversity and importantly to help people enjoy them," continued Mrs Becket.

The new law also provides for the establishment of the Commission for Rural Communities, which aims to act as a watchdog and advocate for those living in rural areas. A key aspect of its role will be to ensure the rural proofing of some Government policies, such as the recent increase in taxation on 4x4 vehicles.

It remains to be seen just how effective the new Super Quango will be, however, Stuart Burgess, Chairman of the Countryside Agency, welcomed the move, saying:

"Royal Assent is an important milestone in the creation of two exciting new bodies which have both been shaped by the Countryside Agency's work to improve the quality of life for people living in rural England and to enhance the quality of the countryside for everyone to enjoy.

"We may be changing, but our skills, knowledge and enthusiasm will continue to benefit the people and places in rural England and the nation as a whole."

  • A controversial issue here in the Yorkshire Dales is addressed by one section of the new Act, with Ministers aiming to stop the inappropriate use of green lanes by 'off-roaders'. The law will allow park authorities to make more extensive use of Traffic Regulation Orders - effectively banning motor vehicles from some of the most heavily damaged lanes.
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