Last week I wrote an Open Spaces Society press release about Lancashire County Council’s intention to ditch its countryside sites. A few days later I came across the second report of the Countryside Commission, for the year ending 30 September 1969, which celebrates the establishment of those sites.
The commission was then a new body, formed by the Countryside Act 1968 from the post-war National Parks Commission with a wider remit extending to the countryside as a whole.
The report rightly expresses disappointment at the many threats to national parks—military training and reservoirs on Dartmoor, potash mining in the North York Moors for instance. (In those days government agencies were much more independent and allowed to express their own views.) However, it is full of optimism about the commission’s new role to encourage, assist and promote facilities for public enjoyment of the countryside, such as country parks and picnic sites.
It quotes the Countryside Act 1968: ‘A country park is a park or pleasure ground for the purpose of providing or improving opportunities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public’. The commission amplified the definition to ‘an area of land, or land and water, normally not less than 25 acres in extent, designed to offer to the public, with or without charge, opportunity for recreational activities in the countryside’. The 1968 act gave local authorities new powers to provide, maintain and manage country parks, and the commission was able to grant aid them.
The annual report celebrates the rapid progress of country-park provision, on the recommendation of the commission and approval by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. ‘The response of local authorities and some private owners, even in this period of financial stringency [sound familiar?] to the provisions of the Countryside Act relating to country parks and picnic sites has been as remarkable as it is welcome.’
One of these parks was Lancashire County Council’s Beacon Fell—269 acres of moorland and woodland about eight miles north of Preston which had been bought by the council under the access powers of the national Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. It is in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and ‘forms a distinctive feature of the landscape, with fine views over the coastal plain and across Bleasdale. The park will be within reach of many large centres of population in the north-west’. The commission’s pleasure at this venture is evident from its report.
For the last 45 years Beacon Fell has been immensely popular and much loved. How tragic that Lancashire County Council should now decide that from 2018 it will stop looking after Beacon Fell and its other countryside sites, such as Wycoller, Crook O’Lune and Warton Crag, which bring such pleasure and refreshment to urban people. The argument is of course money. The council must save £262 million over the next five years, and so it is consulting about the future of its countryside sites which are a discretionary power not a statutory duty. But such places are needed now more than ever.
How we have fallen from those heady days when public bodies believed that money spent on outdoor recreation was a good investment.