National parks boundaries and powers review 'within weeks'

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Media captionEnvironment Minister John Griffiths is expected to make a formal announcement within weeks

Wales' three national parks could be merged into one organisation as part of a review which is to be carried out.

The review will also look at stripping the Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast park authorities of their planning powers.

That proposal, made by a commission looking at local authorities, is backed by the Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW).

Environment Minister John Griffiths said the review will be announced within weeks.

He said: "We're looking at the governance - whether there may be direct elections for the councillors who sit on the national parks for example or whether there might be one for national parks for the whole of Wales.

Image copyright Andy Jones
Image caption Wales' three national parks, including Snowdonia, have planning powers

"Nothing stands still and we are very concerned in Welsh government to get more focus on sustainable development territory, as it were.

"So as well as the very important landscape issues, and connecting people with national parks, increasingly we're going to be talking about the social and economic as well the environmental because they all have to click together."

In addition to their governance, the review would also look at the functions of the national parks, Mr Griffiths said, but he would not be drawn on the future of the parks' planning powers.

He said: "This is to be determined by the planning minister as he takes forward work around the planning bill, so we are not yet in a position to make an announcement on that."

Image copyright Jez Hewitt
Image caption The review will look at whether the parks should be merged into one organisation

Mr Griffiths said he was "open to ideas" and wanted a "wide-ranging debate" on the parks' designations.

Set up in the 1950s, Wales' national parks were created to enhance and protect the environment. Around 12 million people visit the three national parks every year.

The Williams Commission review into reorganising councils published its recommendations last January and they included the stripping of powers.

But park officials say an important local service could disappear.

Tegryn Jones, chief executive of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, said: "The question that needs to be asked is will this create a better service?

"Essentially the majority of services delivered by the three national park authorities at the moment are local services - local services that have grown out of the particular character and nature of the three parks."

The FUW has called for national parks to be stripped of their planning powers.

The farming unions has said giving local councils the powers would save money and mean more consistency in planning decisions.

Image copyright Colin Riddle
Image caption National park officials question whether removing planning powers would improve services

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