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Celebrated landscapes under pressure from housing development

Words: Huw Morris

The number of homes built in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has increased by 82 per cent in the past five years despite government commitments to maintain their protected status.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said 15,500 homes have been built in England’s 34 AONBs since 2012 while the number of planning applications for housing has more than doubled in that time.

It warned there is clear evidence of housing developers applying increasing pressure on local authorities to build new homes on AONBs by “exploiting poorly defined and conflicting national planning policy”.

CPRE research also shows that the pressure on local authorities is set to increase, with applications for a further 12,741 homes in AONBs currently awaiting decision. Based on the 2016/17 housing approval rate of 64 per cent, this could mean a further 8,154 homes resulting in 23,639 homes being approved in AONBs since 2012.

Pressure for development within AONBs – defined by the number of applications, approvals and housing units – is highest in the South East and South West. In these areas, just eight AONBs account for 74 per cent of all housing applications and 79 per cent of all approvals from 2012-2017.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), “great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in AONBs, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty”. Government policy allows housing targets to be lower in designated areas and recommends that “major developments”, including housing schemes, should be refused except in “exceptional circumstances”.

However, the CPRE said both of these terms are poorly defined, creating loopholes that are often exploited by developers.

It calls on the government to amend the NPPF to state a presumption against proposals for large housing developments in AONBs and that demand for housing or the lack of a five-year supply of land are unlikely to justify such schemes.

The CPRE added that the government’s promised 25-year environment plan should include targets to ensure that development does not damage landscape quality. This would emphasise the importance of AONBs to the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the nation.

“While the CPRE advocates the building of right homes in the right places, AONBs are not the right place,” said senior rural policy campaigner Emma Marrington. “On top of this, current development on AONBs shows little evidence that what’s built will actually help solve the housing crisis, which is more to do with affordability than lack of land.”

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