HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc21-2WS
Mr. Caton

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if she will make a statement on(a) the process of establishing area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards and(b) selecting Secretary of State nominees to area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards; [133431]

(2) what mechanisms she will put in place to ensure that the appointment process for members of area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards is (a) fair, open and transparent and (b) delivers boards that are well-balanced in terms of their skills, background and political interests. [133432]

Mr. Bradshaw

The process of establishing AONB Conservation Boards is laid down in section 86 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The Chilterns and Cotswolds AONBs are well advanced in the process. I intend to write to the Countryside Agency and the constituent local authorities of each AONB seeking their formal consent for the Establishment Orders to create the two Boards. In addition, we have just begun the same process for the High Weald AONB.

Secretary of State appointees will represent the national perspective on Conservation Boards. When the vacancies are advertised, I hope a variety of people will apply. To encourage this, Defra asked the Countryside Agency to organise a 'test day' to research the best ways of reaching a diverse range of people with the necessary skills. The results are now being considered. Appointments will follow the process of fair and open competition as described in Cabinet Office Guidance on public appointments.

The process for appointing parish members will be included in the Establishment Order for each Conservation Board. It will provide a democratic process for parishes to elect their appointees.

Each constituent local authority will be able to appoint a member to the two proposed Boards. How these appointees are selected will be a matter for each authority to decide but the appointee must be an elected member of the appointing authority.

Secretary of State appointees will be selected with a range of skills and experience in mind, including in land management, conservation, business and the community. Although it is for local authorities and parishes to chose who they want to represent them, I would expect them to appreciate the need for spread of skills and experience.

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