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AONBs role in planning should be strengthened

Words: Laura Edgar
Derwentwater, Lake District / Shutterstock_213418510

A review of national parks proposes that the stature of national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) should be strengthened in the planning system – with AONBs given statutory consultee status.

The review, led by writer and journalist Julian Glover, also recommended that, where appropriate, AONBs should be supported to work within local plans for their areas, prepared in conjunction with local authorities.

The independent review suggests that a National Landscapes Service should be established to support and hold to account national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). National landscapes should have a renewed mission to recover and enhance nature, and this would bring together the 44 national landscapes to “achieve more than the sum of their parts”.

Then environment secretary Michael Gove launched the review in May 2018, after it was first mentioned in the government’s 25-year environment plan in January 2018.

Glover led the review to see how national parks and AONBs met the public’s needs in the 21st century.

Although he recognised the efforts of those who fought for and work in national parks and AONBs, and that “there’s much that is good”, the report states that it “falls far short of what can be achieved and what the people of our country want”.

The review focuses on five areas that are “part of one ambition: to strengthen the natural beauty of England’s landscapes in order to serve the country better by improving biodiversity, and the lives of people who work in them, live in them and enjoy them”.

Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: “These landscapes are the jewels in the crown of our countryside and are a cornerstone of our rural economy. We are committed to ensuring they flourish as havens for nature and sites that everyone in the country goes to visit for inspiration, adventure or relaxation.

“That’s why we asked Julian and his panel to conduct this review and I am very grateful to them for their efforts. I welcome and agree with the spirit of ambition, which is in line with our 25-year environment plan, and we will now carefully consider the recommendations set out in the review.”

Glover said: “From the high fells of the Lake District to the wildness of Exmoor, England’s most beautiful places define our country. We are setting out a big, bold plan to bring them alive to tackle the crisis in our natural environment and make sure they are there for everyone to enjoy.

“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.”

Landscapes Review proposes:

Landscapes alive for nature and beauty:

  • National landscapes should have a renewed mission to recover and enhance nature, and be supported and held to account for delivery by a new National Landscapes Service.
  • The state of nature and natural capital in our national landscapes should be regularly and robustly assessed, informing the priorities for action.
  • Strengthened management plans should set out clear priorities and actions for nature recovery including, but not limited to, wilder areas and the response to climate change (notably tree planting and peatland restoration). Their implementation must be backed up by stronger status in law.

Landscapes for everyone:

  • A stronger mission to connect all people with our national landscapes, supported and held to account by the new National Landscapes Service.
  • Landscapes that cater for and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing.

Living in landscapes:

  • A new National Landscapes Housing Association to build affordable homes.
  • A new approach to coordinating public transport piloted in the Lake District, and new, more sustainable ways of accessing national landscapes.

More special places:

  • New designated landscapes and a new National Forest.
  • Welcoming new landscape approaches in cities and the coast, and a city park competition.

New ways of working:

  • Stronger purposes in law for our national landscapes.
  • AONBs strengthened with new purposes, powers and resources, renamed as National Landscapes.
  • Reformed governance to inspire and secure ambition in our national landscapes and better reflect society.
  • A new financial model – more money, more secure, more enterprising.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would now consider the recommendations.


Corinne Pluchino, chief executive of Campaign for National Parks, said: “This is an exciting moment for the national parks where so much has been achieved and it is essential that we do not lose the momentum that has been created by the review. It’s absolutely right to point out the many challenges facing the parks and to consider how we can renew and refocus their role to meet the needs of the nation today, both as a source of beauty and tranquillity and as places rich in wildlife and natural resources that can also help to address the challenges of climate change. We look forward to studying the report in detail.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive at the Campaign for Rural England (CPRE), welcomed the review. “CPRE has long supported the brilliant work of hard-pressed AONBs, so we’re thrilled that the review recommends that they should be strengthened and in particular that they should be given much-needed additional funding and a greater say on development in their areas. We suggested in our response to the review’s call for evidence that there should be a more joined-up and consistent approach to planning in AONBs.”

Truman said many of the recommendations in the report “chime with CPRE’s hopes”. However, the charity has concerns “that adding an economic purpose to national parks and AONBs may inadvertently put these landscapes at risk of inappropriate development being pushed through. But we recognise that the aim is to foster the economic and community vitality of these areas and we are keen to see the right, sustainable development in the right place in rural areas like these, such as truly affordable homes to support local communities.”

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority, commented: "Crucially, [the review] identifies the tools and resources required for protected landscapes to tackle locally and nationally the critical global issues of climate change and biodiversity loss. It reignites that passionate campaign that created the Peak District as Britain’s original national park to care for our most treasured landscapes for all to enjoy forever. And it supports our ambition to re-connect a generation to nature.

“Ultimately, it offers solutions for us to tackle global challenges locally so our protected landscapes can be more diverse - in nature and in the people connecting with them - and be working models of a sustainable future."

Landscapes Review can be found on the UK Government website.

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