Is it time for the East Devon AONB Partnership to “Come Out”?

From a planning correspondent:

This self- congratulatory e-mail from the East Devon Area of Natural Beauty set me thinking

 “After a successful bid for funding, the East Devon AONB partnership are looking forward to delivering a brand-new programme to help people creatively connect, experience, and better understand our natural environment. 

Over the next year, on behalf of the AONB, artist Emma Molony will work with a range of creative facilitators, organisations, and the non-arts sector to co-deliver a series of high quality, accessible and inclusive art experiences for schools, families, wider communities, and marginalised groups.

Supported by the Arts Council England (ACE) lottery fund, the project will work to build links between community, cultural and landscape partners, bringing together different fields of expertise to engage rurally and culturally isolated communities in East Devon.”

AONBs and National Parks are of equal importance regarding landscape and scenic beauty and have EQUAL STATUS when it comes to planning decisions on landscape issues.

They both exist for the purpose of conserving and enhancing their natural beauty. National Parks, BUT NOT AONBs, in addition to this, have other very important purposes;

a) to promote understanding and enjoyment of the area’s special qualities by the public and because of this extra (and substantial) layer of responsibility they have their own independent National Park authorities with full planning powers running them.

b) the National Parks conservation and enhancement purpose specifically includes “wildlife and cultural heritage”.

East Devon planning watchers may be surprised that AONBs have a planning role at all, given the silence of the East Devon AONB Partnership on even the most sensitive planning applications in its area. East Devon District has 2/3rds of its district covered by the two AONBs of East Devon and the Blackdown Hills. So what part will East Devon AONB play in this difficult time when the government has a BUILD BACK BETTER agenda and EDDC has to find close to 1,000 new build houses a year? 

I think the answer may be found in their latest management plan.

On planning matters the partnership will: 

“Respond to planning consultations in accordance with the AONB protocol AS RESOURCES ALLOW” 

But on the other hand, resource seems to be directed to secondary, and arguably less contentious priorities: “Whilst recreation is NOT a primary purpose for designation, it is recognised that DEMAND SHOULD BE MET THROUGH ACTIVE MANAGEMENT

See: https://www.eastdevonaonb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/AONB-Partnershipplan_lowres_final.pdf

This active management can be seen in the variety of projects which have been undertaken and are now being actively pursued. The latest very commendable project (see above) required much active management to acquire the Arts Council England (ACE) lottery fund funding. The project will work to build links between community, cultural and landscape partners, bringing together different fields of expertise to engage rurally and culturally isolated communities in East Devon, not part of its statutory remit. One of the latest projects –“Saving the Grey Long Eared Bat – East Devon AONB “ is, again, not a statutory obligation. 

So, to the person in the street, it looks like the partnership has chosen to include projects not part of their primary purpose and relegate their statutory planning responsibilities only when resources allow.

 If the partnership wants to act like a National Park, it should “come out” and actively join and promote the “East Devon and Dorset National Park” initiative, so that these commendable ideas can be properly resourced. We might also get a bit of landscape sensitive planning as well. 

One thought on “Is it time for the East Devon AONB Partnership to “Come Out”?

  1. Unfair I think. The AONB survives and has survived years in a completely hostile environment of Tory abuse of the spirit and sometimes the letter of planning regulation locally. The landscape is under permanent threat from those who gauge its value in cash terms alone, and feel empowered to impose that view on the rest of us. It is only protected by people feeling it a vital part of their lives, and the East Devon AONB, as far as I’m aware, is singular in trying to generate political engagement in support of its aims, by bringing the landscape into focus as central to our cultural experience in other spheres. Your planning correspondent may wish to go down in a blaze of principled glory on the front line of political debate, and of course there’s always a temptation to join that noble conflagration, but maybe at least cut the AONB some slack for its performance in enemy territory over many years prior to the new enlightenment at EDDC.

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