The Sandford Principle

The Sandford Principle

An article By Bryan Read

This is a factual report which sets out the origin of the Sandford Principle as it relates to the other National Parks and the implications for the Broads Authority. It is not a policy document and therefore does not represent the views of the Broads Society. It is based on Bryan Read’s experience of working with other organisations and it is coincidental that he is President of the Broads Society.

National Parks were founded in England and Wales following the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949. The Parks were to have two statutory purposes which, by implication, would have equal weight in law and when making policy decisions. They were updated by the 1995 Environment Act and read as follows:-

1)Conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage

2)Promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public

Some conflicts arose when some of the members of National Park Authorities tended to give more emphasis to enjoyment by the public rather than the preservation of the environment. While the enjoyment by the public and by implication the livelihood of those living in the Parks are important, a primary reason for designation was to protect the very special character of the area and this was sometimes overlooked.

A committee under Lord Sandford was set up to review the operation of the 1949 Act and to make recommendations for possible improvements both to the legislation and to the management of the Parks.

This Committee reported in 1974 and made important recommendations including a statement that became known as the Sandford Principle. This said that where irreconcilable conflict arises between the two National Park purposes, that of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage should prevail over the second purpose of promoting public understanding and enjoyment of the Parks. This statement had no statutory force and a campaign was undertaken by some influential bodies to have the principle enshrined in legislation. This was finally achieved in the 1995 Environment Act which reads as follows ‘… if it appears that there is a conflict between those two purposes, any relevant Authority shall attach greater weight to the first (i.e. the environment)’.

In practice, the Sandford Principle has rarely been applied as there is an increasing awareness of the vital importance of protecting the environment but it is a very useful safeguard for National Parks where there is potential conflict. The problem for the Broads is that there are three statutory purposes because the Broads Authority has the important third purpose set out in the 1988 Act of protecting the interests of navigation. The navigation interests have fought hard to ensure that the Sandford Principle was not applied in the Broads although it could be argued that more recent legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, which place a strong emphasis on protecting nature conservation, have the same effect in those parts of the Broads to which they apply.

Although there is little evidence from the other National Parks that the principle has been applied in making decisions, the navigation interests claim that if it were statutorily applied to the Broads, it would enable the Authority to close navigations for the purpose of preserving flora or fauna or possibly to preserve a landscape itself. A claim is also made that the adoption of the principle would mean a ‘cultural change’ for the Broads. There is no evidence that this happened in the other Parks or would happen in the Broads. Indeed, the principle could not be applied where there is a statutory right of navigation.