Report: major developments in National Parks

Walkers and their dog sit in a meadow at Ravenscar looking out over Robin Hood's Bay

Short-term economic priorities are overriding long-established protections and allowing inappropriate development in England’s National Parks, research by Sheffield Hallam University has found.

We commissioned the research alongside the Campaign for National Parks and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
Almost half the land we care for is within National Parks. We’re concerned about the impact of major developments on the wildlife and cultural heritage within these protected areas. 
The report follows the decision by North York Moors National Park Authority to allow a potash mine to be developed on moorland overlooking Robin Hood's Bay.


The major development test is the main planning protection for the landscape in National Parks, and applies to developments such as mines, wind farms and large scale housing developments.

It states that planning applications should be refused for major development unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Interpretations of ‘major development’ vary between the National Parks. The research suggests that decisions to approve planning applications often reflect the Government ‘mood’ at the time, with policy changes that lean toward economic growth rather than environmental protection.

This has led to major developments being granted permission that threaten National Parks’ beauty and cultural and environmental significance.


Current threats to England's National Parks from major developments include:

  • Proposals to significantly widen roads that cut through the Peak District and South Downs National Parks.

  • Increased quarrying activities in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, as well as a large holiday complex on the south west edge of the Park.

  • Fracking, which could lead to development and disruption that affects the South Downs, Exmoor, North York Moors and Peak District National Parks.


The National Trust, Campaign for National Parks and CPRE have called on government to protect England’s National Parks by: 

  • Reconfirming its commitment to National Parks in the forthcoming 25 Year Plan for the Environment and by clearly stating how they will ensure their long-term protection and enhancement. It is also essential that protections for nature are maintained after the UK leaves the European Union.
  • Issuing guidance to make sure National Park Authorities develop local plan policies that set out clearly how the protection against major development should be applied in their National Park.
  • Requiring Natural England to take a more active role in ensuring that National Parks are effectively protected from major development. This should include producing an annual update setting out how the major development test is being implemented and providing guidance or training for National Park Authorities to address any issues identified.
" Dealing with major development pressures has always been one of the central challenges for our National Parks, and we know further challenges lie ahead."
- Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director

'Maintaining protections'

Our historic environment director, Ingrid Samuel, said: 'As the Government considers the UK’s exit from the European Union, it will want to ensure we are competitive.

'But we think it should also focus on our natural and cultural heritage, which, as well as being much loved by people across the country, is one of our greatest capital assets.
'The Government’s new 25 Year Plan for the Environment offers a chance to reinforce planning protections for our finest landscapes, and to ensure wildlife is safeguarded through maintaining protections that currently exist in EU law.'

National parks developments: read the reports