The Royal Society of Architect reports on the role of the National Parks in Wales

The Royal Society of Architect's in Wales's Touchstone magazine is the only print publication where practices and sole practitioners in Wales are listed together to establish a comprehensive list of architects operation in the nation.

The last edition published in Autumn 2018 featured the article, 'Future Landscapes: Delivering for Wales' which discusses the role of the National Parks in Wales in relation to their socio economic responsibility, with comment by Keith Griffiths, founder of the Griffiths-Roch Foundation, which restored Twr y Felin Hotel, Roch Castle and Penrhiw Priory.

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A quarter of the land of Wales is designated either as an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) or as a national park. That's an astonishing figure.

In May 2017 Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas delivered to the Welsh Government's commissioning cabinet secretary, Lesley Griffiths, a vital document about its future, Future Landscapes: Delivering for Wales.

'The crux of the reform', says the report, 'may be summarised [...] as "promoting" the current National Park duty to have regard for the socio­ economic well-being of the area into one of its purposes, and to apply these same purposes to AONBs .' On first reading, the words seem quite innocuous, but then you realise that to 'have regard for' is a world apart from having the duty to ensure socio-economic well-being as one of the main 'purposes' of their existence .

The need for a shift may be urgent. How will this be done? The report proposes that it should be achieved through a lot more participative and open working, across and beyond their designated boundaries: in plainer speak, stepping outside their claustrophobic comfort zones.

There are already some who would argue that the very visible signs of diminishing public services in these protected landscapes need more severe medicine to avoid them hollowing out the core economy for local inhabitant s. They suggest a far more radical opening up of governance is required. One such proponent is Pembrokeshire-born architect Keith Griffiths who founded the fifth largest architectural practice in the world, Aedas.

'The city of St David's', he writes of his home town, 'has lost many jobs since the closure of Brawdy Air Force base and the adoption of the set-aside land policy. The population of the city is now only 1400 of which 700 are retirees. The economic sustainability of the city is now seriously threatened: 'The secondary school of 380 pupils, under pressure from Pembrokeshire County Council has recently introduced a severely restricted sixth form syllabus that will require many students to travel to Haverfordwest for their pre-university education. This will reduce the attractiveness of the city to any incoming new residents. Should the secopdary school shut then the cathedral will lose its choir and be severely challenged to continue its 1500-year history as an important centre of Christianity and a viable and vibrant place of worship:

He suggests 'a third party needs to take control of the well-being of St David's and nurture it to health and prosperity:

He argues that 'the Welsh Government should have an appropriate overview of the relative importance of St David's to all of Wales and the Welsh nation, through commissioning a report into St David's and the peninsula's current economy, putting fo1ward a plan for its revival.'

'A holistic and balanced plan created  by  the  Welsh  Government with attendant seed grants could truly save St David's from its steady decline , and create a vibrant and unique city and an international tourist destination for the people of Wales to be proud of.'

No doubt this level of dramatic 'working beyond boundaries', that Griffiths argues for as being necessary to break a deadlock, is not quite what Elis-Thomas and his collaborators had in mind. A lot of noses along the Pembrokeshire coast could be put out of joint, and perhaps that is Griffiths's intent for maybe good reasons, but something most definitely needs to happen if 'purpose' is to become more purposeful.

Griffiths is well known in the area for his personally funded investment in high-end tourism venues around St David's . When he also argues that the Welsh Government should 'lift planning restrictions on St David's and key tourist spots within the Park', that's clearly a red rag to a bull and could be read as purely self-interest.But this should not get in the way of his very real central concerns.

Keith Griffiths is chairman of Aedas Architects and Twr y Felin Hotel, Roch Castle Hotel, and Penrhiw Hotel, Pembrokeshire.

Click here to view the report Future Landscapes: Delivering for Wales  a report from a group chaired by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM