National Parks Commission for England and Wales
The National Parks Commission for England and Wales was appointed on 19 November 1949 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
Easier access to mountainous areas had been sought since the 1880s and the establishment of national parks was first considered by the Addison Committee, which reported in 1931. It recommended a system of national reserves and nature sanctuaries and an improvement of access to the countryside. No government action resulted, and the Councils for the Preservation of Rural England and Rural Wales established a Standing Committee on National Parks in 1936.
In 1939 the Access to Mountains Act was passed, and during the war the standing committee pressed for a national parks commission to be established. It was supported by the recommendations of the Scott Committee on Land Utilisation in Rural Areas in 1942. The committee had been appointed in 1941 by the Minister of Works and Buildings to consider the conditions which should govern building in country areas consistent with the maintenance of agriculture, and with particular regard to the location of industry, economic operation, employment, the well-being of rural communities and the preservation of rural amenities.
In 1942 John Dower, a research officer in the Planning Department of the Ministry of Works and Planning, surveyed possible national park areas. Dower reported in 1945 and a National Parks Committee (the Hobhouse Committee), was appointed by the Minister of Town and Country Planning to consider his recommendations. The Hobhouse Committee reported in 1947 and as a result the National Parks Commission was established.
In the first few years of its existence the National Parks Commission designated ten National Parks and also several areas of outstanding natural beauty. The ten National Parks were:
- Brecon Beacons
- Lake District
- North Yorkshire Moors
- Peak District
- Pembrokeshire Coast
- Yorkshire Dales
The National Parks Commission was successively responsible to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (1949-1951), the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (1951), the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (1951-1965 and 1967-1968), and the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (1965-1967). Its main functions were the establishment of national parks recommended by the National Parks (England and Wales) Committee in 1947 and the designation of areas of outstanding natural beauty.
In August 1968, the Countryside Commission for England and Wales was formed from the National Parks Commission under the Countryside Act 1968, which extended the functions of the commission and enlarged its scope.
The Countryside Commission was a statutory public body charged with keeping under review all matters relating to the provision and improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside in England and Wales, the conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty and amenity, and the need to secure public access for open air recreation. Like the National Parks Commission, the Countryside Commission was empowered to acquire and sell property, to conduct research, to provide technical services to assist local planning or countryside services, and to exercise greater supervision over these local services. The Countryside Commission was initially appointed by, and was responsible to, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Wales. The chairman and members of the commission were appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, and for Wales by the Secretary of State for Wales. The commission was empowered, in consultation with the secretary of state, to appoint a Committee for Wales including co-opted members to discharge any of its functions.
In October 1970, the Countryside Commission became responsible to the new Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office.
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, responsibilities for the commission's functions in Wales were taken on by a new Countryside Council for Wales. The Countryside Commission continued as before, but covering England only.
In 1999 the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission merged to form the Countryside Agency.