No plans for Snowdonia plc

Wales's open spaces are not being privatised. But conservation is a sha red responsibility, says John Redwood
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The Independent Online
This weekend it seemed that April Fool's Day had come early to Wales. Imagine my surprise to learn that I was about to privatise Snowdonia. In my mind's eye I saw the sequels: offering the Brecon Beacons for sale, discounting the Pembrokeshire Coast, a Dutch auction of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The story was particularly silly as most parts of Snowdonia are owned by the National Trust and by farmers and other private interests. Were the Countryside Council for Wales to propose such schemes I would take great pleasure in turning them down. Much of Wales is beautiful. There are many important sites for animal, bird and wildlife. The challenge in public policy is to decide how best to protect these areas. What mixture of control and encouragement should be offered to the owners? Which type of designation is the best in each particular case? How can we make sure that an area, once designated, will be looked after in the right way?

I am interested in practical greenery. Saving energy is good for the environment and good for business. Recycling metals, minerals and other materials makes green sense and often makes market sense. Encouraging more use of the train takes some of the strain off the roads. Better and more services are needed - especially for freight - to limit the growth in road transport. The Connah's Quay power station, alternative power projects recently licensed and the big programmes of insulation throughout Wales will spare the atmosphere a great deal of pollution. A strong, renewable forestry policy will produce wealth for Wales and limit the depredations of non-renewable forests in other parts of the world.

I have cancelled or deferred road schemes on the A40 and A5 as I wish to protect the beauty of mid-Wales and Snowdonia from major arterial roads. I have asked the Countryside Council for Wales to experiment with reduced car use in rural areas and with much higher levels of energy conservation in its offices. I have also asked it to report to me on how we can give the most secure protection to the best areas of the Welsh landscape.

Reform begins at home. I am looking for better and bolder practical ideas on protecting the environment, reducing fuel use, on cleaning the water, air and landscape. We do need some new homes, factories and jobs. I have asked the Welsh Development Agencyto increase its land reclamation projects as I wish to see as much as possible built on reclaimed land rather than on green fields. I have announced more restraint on out-of-town retailing to support the regeneration of town centres and will shortly be issuing formal guidance. I have been keen to encourage the adoption of local plans throughout Wales so that more of the sensitive issues can be properly considered - and more people can know where they stand when a planning application is under way.

True greenery is led by families and businesses. It depends on how we lead our lives, whether we try to recycle our waste, take the train rather than the car, look for the low-energy solution. Many of the discussions about how we plan our local communities and look after our local countryside can best be taken by elected local government close to the people it represents. It is my job to set the sights of Wales higher when it comes to our overall ambitions for a greener and a cleaner land.

John Redwood is the Secretary of State for Wales

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