On 1st April 2014, the Greater London National Park (GLNP) website was launched. Just over a month later, I’m still not sure quite how seriously to take it. My first reaction was that it was an intelligent spoof environmental campaign, much like the campaign to save the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. However, very quickly became clear that the campaign to have London designated as the world’s first National Park City was intended to be taken at least partly seriously, as a way of provoking debate about the nature and function of UK National Parks and as a way of advancing the geographical sub-field of urban ecology.
The more I thought about it, the more I came to think that there might be something to be said for the GLNP campaign. The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, revised by the 1995 Environment Act, set out two statutory duties for National Park Authorities in England and Wales:
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage;
- Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks
The 1995 Act added a third duty:
- Seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities within the National Parks.
There isn’t anything within these duties that requires National Parks to be a specifically rural environment. Granted, the duty to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and wildlife of a National Park might be easier to achieve in a rural environment, but there are urban parkland, urban rivers and urban ecosystems that, arguably, have been neglected as a result of the predominantly rural focus of the conservation movement.
Last weekend, a BBC News article caught my eye. It was about the suggestion that parts of the West Midlands be rebranded as ‘Greater Birmingham’ as a way of competing with Greater London for international investment. I tweeted a link to this article, with the suggestion that it could alternatively be rebranded as Greater Birmingham National Park, which led to a brief conversation about which other UK cities could work as a National Park.
This, in turn, prompted another chain of thought – as a result of which, I have decided that I am against the idea of a Greater London National Park or, indeed, of any National Park City. Here’s why: try re-reading those three duties with the words ‘National Parks’ replaced by ‘the UK’:
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the UK;
- Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the UK;
- Seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities within the UK.
Don’t these three statements fairly comprehensively summarise the duties of an effective national government? Why can’t the entire country be designated as a single, unitary and genuinely national National Park?
The campaign starts here!
 Greater London National Park (2014) ‘Welcome to the Greater London National Park’, http://www.greaterlondonnationalpark.org.uk/ (site accessed 11 May 2014)
 Lyle Zapato (2013) ‘Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus’, http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ (page updated 4 February 2013; site accessed 11 May 2014)
 National Parks (2014) ‘The aims and purposes of National Parks’, http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/learningabout/whatisanationalpark/aimsandpurposesofnationalparks (site accessed 11 may 2014)
 BBC News (2014) ‘Would the West Midlands welcome a Greater Birmingham?’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-26865936 (article dated 4 May 2014; site accessed 11 May 2014)
 My tweet, and the resulting conversation, can be read here: https://twitter.com/carljphillips/status/463216992460505088