Our Strategic (or perhaps less than) Approach to the RMS Review
We welcomed the review of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy, the core policy document whose difficult birth plagued the early years of the Park. Little of its 60 actions, including straightforward surveys and a five year review had been achieved. It is to the credit of the Authority officers that they mooted this review, which was accepted unenthusiastically at the March 2017 meeting by the Authority membership in the manner of a recalcitrant child taking medicine.
This review is an opportunity to raise the profile of Recreation Management in the Forest, to revisit the extensively publicly consulted upon 2010 Strategy, to create a more focused Plan featuring fully specified high-priority projects to address the ageing infrastructure, education and large increases of use resulting from growth of development on our borders.
Since then the red flags have gone up with the confusing, unrepresentative survey, its poor interpretation, and the drive this year to engage in a similarly, perhaps even more empty and simplistic exercise in public engagement. (for more about our concerns with the surveys read here)
We have at every step of the way offered the NPA constructive criticisms of both the content and method of this review.
When questioned directly as to how the review in any way improves on the existing Strategy, NPA Officers and Members have given certain responses (which I’ve taken few liberties in paraphrasing):
All is well because the surveys and proposals have been signed off by the partner organizations (gnomically tautological, often with flourish pointing to their logos).
The “actions” of the original strategy weren’t “owned” by the relevant organizations, which need to deliver the objectives.
This Strategy will call for the partners and others to volunteer initiatives to deliver actions and objectives which will deliver Recreation Management.
All the partner organizations were part of the extensive consultation that produced the existing strategy, to suggest that they never really signed up to those objectives is a ripe nonsense. The objectives of the existing Strategy are “owned” by definition by the National Park which includes that Strategy as one of its core documents. Whilst it’s true that the Park Authority has limited direct responsibilities and powers, it’s incumbent on them to use their influence on those organizations that do, and there is a legal obligation for those bodies to listen and act accordingly.
Case in point: the Natural England SAC management Plan 2000 prescribed that campsites in A&O woodlands be shut down with their camping provision perhaps moved elsewhere. The FC are under an obligation to make this happen. The National Park should be monitoring camping provision for the whole of the Forest, including the licensing of “pop-up” campsites which may very well be providing that alternative provision organically. The National Park, obligated by their purpose to conserve, should encourage the FC to fulfill the SAC management plan, and use its leadership and influence to help smooth the way for this action.
This is not merely a case in point. It is an Action pledged under the existing 2010 Strategy. Oddly it seems to have been dropped from the new version. Whilst all this should happen because of obligations outside the purview of the Strategy, it is entirely within to help chivvy it along.
There might be the view that the Friends of the New Forest / NFA should play a longer game, presume that the vague well-meaning mishmash will eventually garner useful concrete proposals fully supported by the partner organizations, and that these will also magically cover the statutory obligations given little or no space in the proposals. Given the lack of follow through on the 2010 plan, and the failure of the Park Authority, both officers and members to take on board our criticisms of this version of the strategy over the last year, we lack confidence in their ability to steer this course. We would fail our duty as a critical friend of the Park if we merely patted them on the back for their effort and patronised them with a “bless!” and perhaps a gold stick-on star.
This may risk a chilly relationship between us as the National Park Society for the New Forest, but they are public servants, they are indulging our resources and they should expect criticism for below par output. As little we’ve said has deterred them so far, we can at least demand from them a swift roster of actual plans following on from this survey process which would quell our concerns, and attract our praise, which will be equally vocal and public should they hit the mark. Otherwise we’ll continue to watch as they tread water and ignore all the life preservers we helpfully lob in their direction, mindful that this delays useful and needed action to the detriment of the Forest.
We still have faith in the potential of the National Park to deliver a coherent plan which we could support, and what we have before us contains many of the right ideas amongst the blather. The Authority needs to show a willingness to propose specific solutions which could include difficult choices which they would defend publicly. We await their leadership.
|This is part of our ongoing coverage of the National Park Authority’s review of the Recreation Management Strategy which we ultimately support, but have grave disappointments in the conduct and current proposals to date.|