Tuesday, 12 April 2016

High court judge rules in support of using Broads National Park brand

By John Packman, Chief Executive

This morning Mr Justice Holgate handed down his judgment on the High Court judicial review into the decision by the Broads Authority in January 2015 to use the term “Broads National Park” when referring to the area as a brand name and for marketing related purposes.

I am really pleased that the Judge has supported the Authority’s decision to use the term Broads National Park in its marketing material, and rejected the judicial review in full.

The Court was asked to consider three grounds of challenge:

(i) the decision was ultra vires (i.e. the Authority did not have the power brand the Broads in this way);

(ii) the Authority had regard to an immaterial consideration, namely that the Habitats Regulations provided the required level of protection for the biodiversity of the Broads against damaging activities; and

(iii) the Authority’s decision was procedurally unfair because of the consultation process.

The claim was dismissed on all three grounds.

This is an important decision for the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk supporting the presence of the Broads in the East of England as the Broads National Park. The use of the term would be not just a welcome boost to the important tourism industry but also helpful to conservation organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB in attracting visitors to their reserves and promoting understanding of the very special wildlife present in the Broads.

Liz Truss, our Secretary of State, has recently published an 8 point National Park Plan which has ambitions to connect young people to nature and using national parks to drive international growth in tourism. Today’s decision will help the Broads Authority deliver its contribution to the Plan.

The Claimants sought leave to appeal the decision and this has been refused. It is hoped this is the end of the matter. However, the Claimants do have 21 days in which to file an appellant’s notice seeking permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal itself. That is entirely a matter for them. In the meantime, the judgment is binding and the Authority can use the term Broads National Park to market the area and encourage local companies and partners to do the same. I will keep you all updated on any further developments. The Broads Authority will continue to call itself as such and has stated that it does not intend to pursue any legal route to change the status of the area or adopt the Sandford Principle.

The Broads Authority has spent around £60,000 on external legal costs defending its decision. This has all been funded from National Park Grant. The time and money defending the Authority’s decision is regretted but in the face of such a challenge necessary and of course the benefits for the area are very significant.

For those who have followed the case or are interested in National Parks the judgment contains some fascinating insights:

  • Para 73: “The starting point must be that the National Park legislation has no legal monopoly over the use of the term “national park”, whether capitalised or not. It is a part of our ordinary language”.
  • Para 74: “However… Parliament itself made the assessment that the qualities of the Broads made it appropriate to impose a legal regime which included the same twin objectives as underpin the National Park code.”
  • Para 87: “No reasonable member of the public would see the use of the words “Broads National Park” in promotional literature as referring to the specific legal regimes governing either the Broads or National Parks in the UK.”
I am advised that the judgment provides no authority for the wider arguments such as London branding itself a national park. The most important part of the judgment in this respect is the reasoning as to why the Authority has not misled the public. This highlights that the key and only point of distinction relied on by the Claimants between the 1949 Parks Act and the Broads is the Sandford Principle, and the judge did not think that the Sandford Principle was integral to people’s understanding of what a national park was.

This has been a team effort. Our Minister, Rory Stewart, defended the Authority’s position in a Westminster Hall debate. We received the backing of all the national park authorities in the UK, all our constituent local authorities and the two Chief Constables. The Authority’s preparation of its case was assisted by David Coleman (ex-Defra and Countryside Commission) who provided expert advice and moral support us through the process. Our thanks also go to Mark Pendlington (Group Director of Anglian Water), Simon Altham (MD of Hoseasons), Julian Roughton (CEO of Suffolk Wildlife Trust), James Berresford (ex CEO of Visit England), Caroline Topping and Hugh Taylor (Mayors of Beccles) and Katie Lawrence (ex Chair of Broads Tourism).

Stephen Johnson and Jacquie Burgess, Chairs of the Broads Authority, played important roles in the drafting of the Consultation Document which was instrumental in the whole process, as did a wide variety of members of staff.

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