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Agency faces anger over its message

PUBLISHED: 09:46 12 May 2008 | UPDATED: 11:03 03 July 2010

The government agency behind controversial proposals to surrender a large area of Broads to the sea has been accused of “moving the goalposts” by altering its mission statement to downgrade the importance it places on people.

The government agency behind controversial proposals to surrender a large area of Broads to the sea has been accused of “moving the goalposts” by altering its mission statement to downgrade the importance it places on people.

But Natural England denied changing its focus, claiming it had simply reverted to its original mission statement to ensure a consistent message.

Last week the statement on its website read: “Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas.”

By Friday that had been replaced by: “Natural England is here to conserve and enhance the natural environment, for its intrinsic value, the well-being and enjoyment of people and the economic prosperity that it brings.”

One prominent campaigner said the change reinforced his view that Natural England was putting the interests of plants and wildlife before those of humans in considering the scheme, which would involve the loss of at least six villages and thousands of acres of farmland.

Eric Lindo wrote to Natural England chairman Sir Martin Doughty last month, arguing the organisation was not treating people in line with its stated aims and priorities.

Two years ago Sir Martin was quoted as saying: “Our strap line is 'For people, places and nature', and 'people' was deliberately put at the front of the strap line.”

Mr Lindo, chairman of Stalham with Happing Partnership and a Hickling resident, said: “Natural England are moving the goalposts.

“I suspect they have had discussion as a direct result of their being challenged for not following their mission statement and so decided to change it.

“It's an extraordinary way for a public body to behave. Did they consult with their stakeholders and their funders - that's us, the tax-payers?”

A Natural England spokesman said the organisation had updated its website to include the core mission statement dating from its creation in October 2006.

“That was the statement then but different versions, shorter and longer, have been used over time. We're just making sure we're consistent,” she said.

“There's no sinister intention. We haven't moved the goalposts. People are more at the heart of what Natural England does than ever. A huge amount of our spend goes on getting people out and about in the countryside.”

A spokesman for Defra, the government department that oversees Natural England, said: “Natural England's purpose is set out in statute and this has not changed."

Norwich-based brand expert Simon Middleton stressed that he could not comment on this case, but said: “The important thing is that a mission statement is authentic, and you build the organisation around that statement.

“What usually happens is an organisation asks itself 'What do we do?' and writes a statement that justifies that. That's why mission statements have been given a bad press and often don't mean very much - but they can do.”


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