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When the National Trust’s big campaign over Government planning reforms (the National Planning Policy Framework or NPPF) ended in 2013 they committed to keeping an eye on what the final reforms would mean in practice. Since then we’ve been commissioning regular research reports on particular aspects of the how the planning system is working. This report, published in Autumn 2015, looks at what’s happening in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in England.
The distinctive character and natural beauty of AONBs make them some of the most special and loved places in England – whether the ‘blue remembered hills’ of Shropshire depicted by A.E. Housman, the dramatic Cornish coasts and moorland or the varied landscapes and famously beautiful stone buildings of the Cotswolds.
The Government’s commitment to protect AONBs is clear, but the National Trusts new research found some problems with how safeguards to prevent inappropriate development are being implemented in some places. The policy may be fine but it’s the practice where the problem lies.
And practice matters – the planning system is supposed to steer development towards where it’s most appropriate and can provide most value while protecting other areas for their landscape or wildlife.
But with local planning authorities losing staff and expertise and being pressured to make decisions in favour of development, that practice is sometimes falling below what it should be.
The National Trust suggested ways that practice can now be improved. They want to work with AONB partnerships and local councils to make sure that these landscapes continue to inspire us and fulfil the ambitions set out almost 60 years ago when the first AONB (the Gower Peninsula in South Wales) was created.