ENVIRONMENT Minister Richard Benyon has reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to running pilots that could lead to improved national park democracy.

Responding to a Westminster Hall debate initiated by Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, Mr Benyon promised pilot schemes would be introduced in the Peak District and New Forest national parks allowing authority board members to be directly elected.

However, the minister said there were a number of obstacles to overcome, including passing new legislation.

Mr Farron was granted the debate yesterday after expressing concerns raised by people across the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales that those making important decisions about the parks are not accountable to the people the decisions will affect. He said none of the members of park authority boards in England and Wales were directly elected.

After the debate, Mr Farron said: “Introducing accountability over decision making for our national parks is essential to ensuring legitimacy to the park authorities and will help to bring about a greater sense of community ownership over the process for those living within the park boundaries.

“The Lake District and Yorkshire Dales national parks both have huge significance to the lives and communities of people in South Lakes so they deserve a say in how it is run. I am very pleased to have been able to raise my concerns about the recent controversies over the plans for Brockhole, as I seek to ensure local people’s voices are heard when it comes to the national park.

“I’m very grateful for the minister’s reassurances that the Government are still committed to the pilots; however I have some concerns that it is not considered a high enough priority to put forward legislation in the parliamentary session. I will ensure that I keep the pressure on the Government for as long as it takes to see our national parks becoming accountable to local residents and local businesses.”