Greenfield developments in areas of natural beauty have doubled

Parts of England protected for their beauty are being blighted by a doubling in the amount of greenfield land opened up to sprawling “executive home” developments, according to a report.

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Permission has been granted for development on an average of 294 acres of greenfield land per year within England’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) since 2017, up from an average of 128 acres a year in the previous five years, according to research commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity.

The High Weald AONB, which covers parts of Sussex, Kent and Surrey, is facing the largest amount of development, with 932 houses approved since 2017. Another 771 homes have been approved in the Dorset area, 592 in the Chilterns and 684 in the Cotswolds. The research found that twice as much land as the national average was used per new home in developments in AONBs, with builders focusing on large “executive” properties.

Only 16 per cent of the homes met the government’s definition of affordable, which includes those sold or rented at lower than market value.

CPRE is calling for changes to planning rules to prioritise conserving AONBs over meeting housing targets. It also wants any developments in such areas to focus on providing affordable and social homes for local people.

Crispin Truman, the chief executive of the charity, said: “The fact that some of our most highly prized areas of countryside are being lost to build more executive homes says a great deal about our planning system.

“Continuing with this ‘build and be damned’ approach just serves to line the pockets of greedy developers whilst undermining climate action, stalling nature’s recovery and gobbling up our most precious green space that’s vital for our health and wellbeing, all the while doing next to nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis.

“Rural communities are crying out for well-designed, quality and genuinely affordable homes in the right places. We know this kind of development is possible.

“To start building the right nature-friendly and low-carbon homes in the right places, we must see a swift change of tack from the government to put nature and countryside communities at the heart of any future planning bill. Continuing to give developers more power in the planning system will only make this bad situation worse.”

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP for the Cotswolds, said: “It is vital that areas like the Cotswolds and other AONBs, which have all been given that designation because they are unique and special areas, are carefully conserved by planning departments and other statutory consultees.

“Otherwise, this generation will fail to pass on this very special national heritage for future generations.”

The government’s planning guidelines state that “great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty” in AONBs.

However, guidelines state that large developments can be permitted in these areas in “exceptional circumstances” and where it would be in the public interest. These terms are not clearly defined, creating loopholes for developers to use.

The development in the High Weald area includes 119 homes near Crowborough, East Sussex, approved last year against the advice of the official body that manages the AONB.