Government-backed review calls for AONBs to have a stronger planning role

Bodies responsible for areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) should become statutory consultees in the planning system, according to an independent review for government.

North Pennines AONB. Image by guitarfish, Flickr
North Pennines AONB. Image by guitarfish, Flickr

The review of National Parks and AONBs, led by journalist Julian Glover, calls for a number of changes to the planning system to give AONBs a greater say in development proposals. 

The report said: "At present, statutory consultee status for AONBs sits solely with Natural England which, as a national body, cannot be expected to know every area in the way a dedicated local AONB team does."

Currently, planning authorities are required to prepare specific policies for AONBs, but the report said that this was "not sufficient".

It said: "Statutory consultee status should encourage developers to consult AONB bodies before making a formal planning application, to facilitate good design and mitigation and – with net gain soon to be mandated – helping secure this."

The review said that AONBs should agree with their local planning authorities on the types of application on which they should be consulted.

It also said that the government should issue new planning guidance to make a reality of the National Planning Policy Framework’s promise to give national landscapes "great weight" in planning decisions. "National landscapes" is used as the collective term for national parks and AONBs in the report.

In addition, the review called for a review of the current permitted development rights system, with a view to introducing further exemptions to such rights within national landscapes.

"For example," the review said, "forestry and agricultural changes allowed under permitted development can have significant impacts on landscape quality, and the South East and East Protected Landscapes Forum has made a convincing case that these should be reviewed."

National landscapes should also be allowed to use section 106 planning gain and New Homes Bonus receipts to support affordable housing, services or community infrastructure, the review said.

AONBs and national parks should also take on a more active role in coordinating and promoting low-carbon, accessible forms of transport, the report said.

Improvements can also be made to local plan policies relating to AONBs, the review said.

"We heard repeatedly that planning policies and decisions, especially in large AONBs, can vary immensely between authorities.

"There is often no shared vision for the landscape as a whole, with different local authorities taking different approaches, inconsistent with the AONBs’ purpose and character."

The review pointed to the Arnside and Silverdale AONB in Cumbria, where two local authorities have drawn up a single development plan for the AONB.

Launching the report, Glover said: "If we take action, we can make our country healthier, happier, greener, more beautiful and part of all our lives.

"Seventy years ago this year we created our national parks for a nation that had just won the Second World War. Now it’s time to reignite that mission."

Glover was appointed by former environment secretary Michael Gove in June 2018 to lead the review to explore how access to protected landscapes can be improved and their role in growing the rural economy.

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