A new report has identified serious failures to apply policies to protect England’s areas of outstanding natural beauty correctly, resulting in widespread unplanned inappropriate development.
AONBs and Development was researched for the National Trust by Green Balance and looked at 15 case studies.
It found the exclusion of AONBs from the so-called “presumption in favour of sustainable development” and the “great weight” which should be given to protecting their landscapes were widely ignored.
“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,” says the Trust.
“The policy may be fine but it’s the practice where the problem lies.”
In 10 out of 15 planning reports, the great weight test was not demonstrable and in six national AONB tests were not applied.
The need to demonstrate “exceptional circumstances” to justify major developments was only weakly reported and in two strategic land allocations, the examiner omitted to mention that AONB policy allows for “objectively assessed development needs” not to be met.
Four cases failed to assess whether cases were “major” or not.
“In some areas the integrity of AONBs is being challenged by incremental and cumulative development, where one poor development justifies the next,” says the report.
One case, Highfield Farm near Tetbury, has created the legal precedent that pressing need for housing can override AONB landscape protection if there is limited availability of alternative sites in councils’ areas outside the Area.
This is proving problematic, it says.
The report calls for proper application of AONB tests, a ministerial statement in support of them, further content in the National Planning Practice Guidance, better training for practitioners and more resources for AONB partnerships.
“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,” says the Trust.