Log in | Register

AONBs ‘under threat’, warns countryside charity

Words: Laura Edgar
Durdle Door, Dorset AONB / iStock-1312396761

An increasing number of housing schemes are being granted planning permission in areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), according to a report by countryside charity CPRE.

The organisation has called on the government to use the forthcoming planning bill to strengthen protections for green space and prevent high levels of development in AONBs. Development should only be allowed if it meets the needs of local people, nature and the countryside.

The charity says Beauty Still Betrayed: The State of Our AONBs 2021 highlights the extent of the threat facing England’s 34 AONBs because of “unsuitable housing developments”, despite being subject to planning laws and policies that seek to protect them.

Conducted by Glenigan Consultancy on behalf of CPRE, the report finds that the number of homes being built within 500 metres of the boundary of AONBs has increased by 135 per cent since 2012. There has also been a 129 per cent increase in the amount of greenfield land planned to be built over.

It states that most planning applications on greenfield AONB land are allowed and that they are built at low densities. They also do not provide the affordable homes needed in rural communities.

The report also highlighted that:

  • There is “targeted” pressure in the South East and South West. Since 2017/18, an average of 1,670 housing units have been approved on an average of 119 hectares of greenfield land within AONBs each year. This is an average increase of 27 per cent and 129 per cent from the five years leading to 2017, respectively. Housing pressure in these regions is most intense, with 6 per cent of greenfield housing units being granted in AONBs.
  • On average, 80 per cent of planning applications on greenfield AONB land are given permission. The density of housing on greenfield AONB land is on average just 16 dwellings a hectare, the focus of which is largely on building ‘executive’ houses with only 16 per cent of all homes built being considered as affordable by the government’s definition.
  • 5,681 housing units were approved on 403 hectares of greenfield land within AONBs from 2017/18 to August 2020.
  • Four AONB areas – High Weald, Cotswolds, Dorset and the Chilterns – have accounted for 52 per cent of all greenfield development in AONBs, with High Weald seeing the highest development pressure of 16.4 per cent, and pressure that has been sustained between 2017/18 and August 2020. The Cotswolds AONB experienced a 230 per cent increase in housing units being built between 2017/18 and 2019/20 and the Kent Downs experienced 1,094 per cent increase in the same period. Outside of the South, Wye Valley saw a 2,166 per cent increase in development pressure between 2017/18 and 2019/20.
  • Between the financial years 2017/18 and 2019/20, there was a 63 per cent reduction in the average number of dwellings per hectare on brownfield land, suggesting this land is not being used “efficiently”.

The CPRE says the kind of housing currently being provided will not help to address the affordable housing crisis, and building in these areas also sets back action to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.

Units approved on greenfield land since 2017

  • The High Weald AONB -  932
  • The Dorset AONB - 771
  • The Chilterns AONB - 771
  • The Cotswolds AONB - 684

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, 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 while doing next to nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis.”

Rural communities, Truman continued, are “crying out” for well-designed, quality 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.”

It is also interesting to note the North/South divide when it comes to threats to  AONBs, with particular pressure on AONB land in the south-west and south-east of England. In these areas, more than half (52 per cent) of all planning permissions for development on greenfield land in AONBs have been granted.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds, said: “The CPRE report highlighting the enormous development in AONBs nationally is mirroring what is happening in the Cotswolds. I totally support their campaign but whilst some development is essential for economic growth it must be done in a proportionate and well-planned way.

“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.”

Beauty Still Betrayed: The State of Our AONBs can be found on the CPRE website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock