Beauty still betrayed: State of our AONBs 2021 – Report by CPRE

EDDC is revising its Local Plan.Two thirds of East Devon are covered by supposedly protected AONBs. The Government wants to “Build, build, build” everywhere to meet its unsupported 300,000 thousand houses a year target.We await the autumn’s“simplifications” to the NPPF which will achieve this. 

Owl thought is appropriate to follow up the May post “Sounding the alarm on disappearing natural beauty” by reproducing the executive summary of the CPRE report, which can be found here.

From the full report: four AONB areas – High Weald, Cotswolds, Dorset and Chilterns – have accounted for over half (52%) of all greenfield development in AONBs. Dorset, for example, granted 771 housing units on greenfield sites between 2017/18 and 2020/21. The majority of planning applications on greenfield AONB land are being built at low densities; they are also not providing the affordable homes that rural communities need.

The saga of how the percentage of affordables in the “Evan’s Field” greenfield site development outside the Budleigh Salterton built-up area boundary but inside the AONB fell from 30 to 21, and then to only 5, is chronicled in the second half of this post.

Executive summary

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), are some of the UK’s most distinctive and cherished landscapes. Despite this, for several years there have been concerns about an ambiguity in the policy wording that underpins the planning protection for AONBs. This is leading to local authorities finding difficulty in applying weight to the AONB designation under the pressure placed on them to find land for housing to meet ‘objectively assessed need’. 

This report from CPRE, the countryside charity, highlights the extent of the threat facing England’s 34 AONBs as a result of unsuitable housing developments. The main findings are: 

  • The threat to AONBs from development is increasing with pressure targeted on the south east and south west of England. Since 2017/18, an average of 1,670 housing units have been approved on an average of 119 hectares (ha) of greenfield land within AONBs each year. This is an average increase of 27% and 129% from the five years leading to 2017, respectively. Housing pressure in the south east and south west is most intense, with 85% of greenfield housing units being granted in AONBs in these regions. 
  • The majority of planning applications on greenfield AONB land are allowed, and are being built at low densities; they are also not providing the affordable homes that rural communities need. On average, 80% of planning applications on greenfield AONB land are given permission. The density of housing on greenfield AONB land is on average just 16 dwellings per hectare, the focus of which is largely on building ‘executive’ houses with only 16% of all homes built being considered as affordable by the government’s definition. 
  • High housing pressure is also being translated to land around AONBs, with houses built in the setting of AONBs increasing by 135% since 2012/13. 

To ensure that these special landscapes are safeguarded and are receiving the highest level of protection against development, CPRE recommends: 

A new requirement for the government and local planning authorities to maintain and publish annual information on the number of housing units that are permitted or refused in AONBs, and the amount of land developed for housing

Prioritising small scale affordable and social homes for local people, held by the community in perpetuity, on sustainable AONB sites. 

The public interest in conserving and enhancing AONBs should be prioritised over meeting and delivering on local plan housing targets. 

AONB partnerships should be treated as statutory consultees on major developments within or in the setting of AONBs, with a requirement for local authorities to give weight to their advice. 

The NPPF should be strengthened to prevent high levels of development in the setting of AONBs, all of which should be of a sensitive scale, location and design and only be permitted if it results in no adverse impacts on the AONB.