PLANS to create a South Pennines Park – which would encompass Keighley, the Worth Valley and South Craven – have won widespread backing.

Those spearheading the initiative say it would help raise the area’s profile, improve protection of its landscapes and unlock potential funding for major projects – from environmental to business-boosting schemes.

A Government report on the future of England’s protected landscapes has praised the work being done to create the park, which is being championed by regeneration agency Pennine Prospects.

The South Pennines – which cover a 460-square-mile area cutting across the Yorkshire and Lancashire county boundary, and are home to 450,000 people – are the only upland region in England not designated as a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty.

“We want to remedy this omission through the self-declared South Pennines Park – with an equal emphasis on protecting the landscape and addressing social inequality and climate change,” said a Pennine Prospects spokesman.

“Tourism will also be boosted by creating a strong brand for the region, allowing us to better compete with other heavily-marketed landscapes.

“The park would not have planning powers, such as those of a national park, but it would be a powerful advocate for the landscape and its people.

“The move has the support of local authorities and other stakeholders in the area.”

The Government report, published following a review led by journalist Julian Glover, has highlighted the venture’s partnership approach as a model to be encouraged elsewhere.

And it urges the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District national parks to work alongside the proposed new area.

Helen Noble, chief executive of Pennines Prospects, said the review panel had taken part in a fact-finding visit and was “clearly very impressed” with the project.

She added: “Local authorities, campaigners, utility companies and landscape managers all spoke with passion and from the same hymn sheet.

“We don’t necessarily want a statutory designation, but would like to explore a new approach to managing our park – with people and conservation at the heart of sustainable development.

“What we seek is recognition for our work and the chance to benefit from additional resources.

“We do feel we are ahead of the game in what the Glover report urges, such as partnership working, community engagement and supporting access for minority groups to the countryside.”

Among those backing the venture is Keighley’s MP, John Grogan.

He said: “The area covered by the planned South Pennines Park was named as a prospective national park in the 1940s, when the idea of creating national parks was being carried forward.

“However it was never given the same status as the Peak District, North York Moors or Yorkshire Dales, apparently because of the area’s industrial heritage.

“It is 70 years since the Act of Parliament which created the national parks and it would be a good time to give the South Pennines Park recognition.”

Pennine Prospects says that despite the failure of the region to secure designation when the Hobhouse Report laid the foundations for the creation of national parks after the Second World War, the idea of a ‘regional park’ didn’t disappear.

The suggestion resurfaced in reports in the 1970s and again in the early 2000s.

“By this stage much of the textile industry had gone and the old mills had been turned into heritage attractions or aspirational places to live – plus canals had been restored,” said the spokesman.

Pennine Prospects has been working to promote the park idea since 2012.

It has the support of 15 local authorities within the proposed area.

Now a £194,000 National Lottery grant is being used to develop the management capacity needed and examine how it could be funded.

Pennine Prospects chairman, Pam Warhurst, spoke about the plans at a recent national parks conference.

Delegates were told that the park would promote “a resilient local economy, a landscape for the future and one that can be enjoyed by everyone”.

Consultation on the plan will be carried out with the public, businesses and other stakeholders.

Campaign leaders hope the park designation could be in place by 2022.

Councillor Martin Love, the Green group leader on Bradford Council, says he is broadly supportive.

“The South Pennines are an important area and park status could provide greater protection as well as raising the profile of the region and benefitting the local economy,” he said.

“It would link-in with the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales and Peak District national parks.”

Pennine Prospects was established in 2005 with the aim of “promoting, protecting and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the region”.

Its membership includes local authorities, utility companies, the National Trust, community groups and other organisations.

Working with partners, the body has successfully secured over £4.5 million in recent years for heritage, landscape and community projects across the South Pennines.

Mrs Warhurst describes the region as a “special place” but warns that it is under threat.

“The Southern Pennines is just a great place to live, work and relax in,” she said.

“The landscape is both inspirational and fascinating.

“The hills and valleys offer the visitor, investor or resident a heady cocktail of history and beauty that is recognised far beyond the region’s own boundaries.

“Uniquely placed at the heart of three city regions, the ‘green lung’ gives millions of town and city folks the opportunity to step outside their front door and in less than an hour be in a landscape of moors and rivers, forests and commons, intersected by ancient rights of way, canal towpaths and newly-created cycle routes.

“What we have is so special, but it is under threat – threat from development that is inappropriate, from unsustainable land management practices, from climate change and from human apathy, perhaps the greatest threat of all.

“Pennine Prospects was created to champion these Southern Pennines.

“I am proud to be its chairman, and am convinced that together with other like-minded people, we can ensure that this wonderful countryside will be there in all its glory for our children and other generations to come.”