When our big campaign over Government planning reforms (the National Planning Policy Framework or NPPF) ended in 2013 we committed to keeping an eye on what the final reforms would mean in practice.
Since then we’ve been commissioning regular research reports on particular aspects of the how the planning system is working. The latest of these looks at what’s happening in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in England.
The distinctive character and natural beauty of AONBs make them some of the most special and loved places in England – whether the ‘blue remembered hills’ of Shropshire depicted by A.E. Housman, the dramatic Cornish coasts and moorland or the varied landscapes and famously beautiful stone buildings of the Cotswolds.
Safeguarding AONBs from inappropriate development
The Government’s commitment to protect AONBs is clear, but our new research found some problems with how safeguards to prevent inappropriate development are being implemented in some places. The policy may be fine but it’s the practice where the problem lies.
And practice matters – the planning system is supposed to steer development towards where it’s most appropriate and can provide most value while protecting other areas for their landscape or wildlife.
But with local planning authorities losing staff and expertise and being pressured to make decisions in favour of development, that practice is sometimes falling below what it should be.
Working together to protect the countryside
We’ve suggested ways that practice can now be improved. We want to work with AONB partnerships and local councils to make sure that these landscapes continue to inspire us and fulfil the ambitions set out almost 60 years ago when the first AONB (the Gower Peninsula in South Wales) was created.
Ingrid Samuel, the Trust’s Historic Environment Director, says
“We have good policy in place to protect our wonderful AONBs, some of the most special and loved places in England. But our research suggests there can be a gap between policy and practice – and that’s something that needs addressing.
“AONBs are under strain from increasing development pressure, and local councils are between a rock and a hard place as their resources shrink. Reductions of 40% to planning and development management teams over the last five years will not help planning authorities to ensure quality development happens in the most suitable locations.
“We want to raise awareness of the protections that exist, and have proposed a series of tests to help with this. Sometimes the right thing to do is to direct development away from sensitive areas, but good quality development is possible in AONBs, and can contribute to conserving or even enhancing their special qualities if we get it right.“
Find out more by downloading our AONBs and development report here.
The full research report, carried out by Green Balance, is also available here.