Lymington Times 1 January 2011
NATIONAL PARKS’ GOVERNANCE, and Dichotomies
Put simply a ‘dichotomy’ is a division into two opposing parts; a ‘false dichotomy’ is a division into two opposing parts when no natural division really exists.
If you live in an English national park it is judged appropriate that you be governed by an unelected collection of people known as National Park Authority Members; some are councillors from the county or district councils (elected to those positions, but not specifically elected to the NPA – they are nominated to the Authority by their respective councils)) and the rest are appointed by the Secretary of State through Defra. It is assumed the latter represent ‘national’ interests, while the others represent ‘local’ interests.
This is an example of a ‘false dichotomy’ because it suggests that whenever the two groups of Members are functioning there is a clear distinction between their roles. It suggests those representing ‘local’ interests have no regard for ‘national’ interests, and vice versa. In fact, the reverse may be true – those appointed through Defra may never have lived elsewhere, may have had very unvaried life experiences and have unrealistically subjective convictions about where they live - all of which may not be in the national interest.
Encompassed within this false distinction between ‘national’ and ‘local’ is the conviction that while local people must be represented, the nationally appointed Members are bound to act at a more authoritative level in order to curb an unruly public that has no interest in national parks being national assets. This is highly insulting and usually untrue.
Try applying the distinction between local and national to what you do every day, for instance when you shop, travel, or walk the dog. If you purchase locally produced goods you are acting to support local interests but you are also supporting a national (or even international) trend; if you cycle or use public transport you are doing the same; if you walk the dog using the accepted dog-walking areas and pick-up pooh you are doing the same.
The governance of national parks has two purposes – one aimed at conserving and enhancing the area’s special qualities, and the other at promoting enjoyment and understanding of the same, with a subordinate level of importance attached to fostering the economy and social wellbeing while fulfilling the purposes. (There is a general mistaken assumption that social wellbeing, in particular, is a matter for councils, not National Park Authorities.) This is an example of a real dichotomy because conservation, the economy and social issues are inevitably inter-dependent and integrated, and this is directly at odds with the uneven weighting given to the two national purposes and duty.
The appointment of Members by a national organisation like Defra also represents a real dichotomy when measured against government statements like ‘Imposition alienates. We want to hand-over power and responsibilities so that local communities have real choices.’
Taken together the two ‘real dichotomies’ mean New Forest National Park residents, and others like them, suffer a ‘democratic deficit’ in terms of how they are governed.
Resolving dichotomies involves recognising the irrationality of the false distinctions and devising management structures that respect the validity of local people at least being involved in the appointment of all National Park Authority Members, perhaps with Defra acting as a facilitating body which offers advice and guidance. - Perhaps this should also be extended to the appointment of the Chief Executive Officers, because experience here as proved that the wrong appointment can have devastating consequences.
You can take part in Defra’s National Parks’ Governance Review public consultation and the comprehensive Residents’ Survey launched by One Voice, New Forest – links found here: www.onevoice.officeoverload.com/. The consultation closes at the end of January 2011.