Today CPRE published a report ‘Going, going, gone? England’s disappearing landscapes’ on threats to National Parks, AONBS and Locally Valued landscapes.
The case studies in our report are a snapshot of the most significant current threats to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We have also highlighted the dangers faced by landscapes that lack national protection but are, nevertheless, deeply valued by local communities. Government policies mean that National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), which should have the highest level of protection in planning, are increasingly threatened by damaging developments. The development proposals fall broadly within four categories: energy; housing; transport and tourism.
Cases highlighted in our report include the recent permission for 521 houses in the Kent Downs AONB and the cumulative visual impact of wind farms surrounding the Lake District National Park. Threats to locally valued landscapes include a proposed new 20km dual carriageway in open countryside in Norfolk, and a theme park in Swinley Forest, Berkshire.
We are calling on the Government to:
strengthen national planning policy by giving greater weight to the protection of nationally designated and locally valued landscapes;
recognise the contribution that National Parks and AONBs make to our economy and review cuts to their funding in advance of the imminent Spending Review;
produce guidance for the Planning Inspectorate on implementing the major development test in National Parks and AONBs;
ensure that requests for applications to be ‘called in’ by the Department for Communities and Local Government are dealt with in line with the major development test in the National Planning Policy Framework;
exempt National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty from the proposed changes to permitted development rights concerning the conversion of farm buildings; and
review the draft planning policy guidance to ensure that best use can be made of the new Local Green Space designation.
CPRE is also calling for an urgent Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry to review how major development is dealt with in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to protect and enhance their beauty for future generations.
Without wishing to comment too much on individual sites the issue here is the way the ‘Dower test’ for major development in National Parks and AONB is being interpreted. The recent case of Cherkley Court has highlighted the fact that this longstanding test is one of ‘need’ not demand. That is there has to be a need for that development in the AONB or National Park. This means that unlike the ‘ordinary countryside’ in the NPPF you have to show there are not alternative sites outside the AONB / National Park to meet the need. Of course there will be cases where the alternative sites outside the AONB/National Park may have a greater impact on the overall landscape including the setting of the National Park /AONB, and the test allows for such exceptions. This test is longstanding and unchanged in the NPPF, so what is the impact of the governments planning reforms? The issue is that LPAs are so worried about not having a 5 year supply that they apply the ‘presumption in favour’ test without considering the NPPF properly as a whole including whether there are alternative sites outside the AONB/National Park. The SoS has also at one site at Tetbury ruled that the harm to the AONB (which was limited) was less than the benefits from housing. This is misinterpreted however as this applies AFTER the Dower tests. Some AONBS are so large and because they was over most villages and are tightly bound around market towns that there is no alternative but to extend into the AONB unless they re to be pickled in aspic. One thinks here of the Cotswolds, The Weald and so on. But for other AONBs, particularly some of the coastal ones. There will be laternatives outside the AONB or less damaging alternative sites inside the AONB. Some of the cases in theCPRE seem ripe for JR in not demonstrating that the Dower test has been met. Ironically the government by withdrawing the requirement to give reasons on approval, even for cases contrary to the NPPF and recommendation for refusal, has made JR all the easier and in at least one case at Mevagissy this is happening. Also the SoS seems peculiarly adverse to calling in AONB cases unless there is a flood of letters. In many of these cases there has been no such flood as local campaigners fully expected cllrs to refuse the schemes and they did not.
Here is the Telegraph’s story
Sir Andrew, the rural campaigner and former poet laureate, warned that beautiful countryside landscapes “may one day only exist in the mind or on the printed page”.
He said that the Coalition’s controversial changes to the planning system have “created an atmosphere where all development is seen as good development”.
His comments came in a report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which found that the Government’s desperation to loosen planning controls to fuel economic growth is “damaging” some of the most beautiful parts of the countryside.
The study warned that the controversial planning reforms are threatening “national parks and other precious landscapes” despite “repeated assurances” from ministers that they would protect the countryside.
In his most outspoken criticism yet of Government planning changes, Sir Andrew, president of the CPRE, said: “The English countryside is our great collective masterpiece – and any development that needlessly damages it is an act of vandalism.”
Sir Andrew said that he does not believe politicians are “deliberately setting out to degrade and destroy our landscapes”.
“However, they have created an atmosphere where all development is seen as good development,” he added. “When even our protected countryside is at risk, what hope is there for our unprotected but equally loved ‘ordinary’ countryside?”
Sir Andrew and the CPRE are now calling on ministers to toughen up protections for the National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and locally valued landscapes.
In recent months ministers have made increasingly strident comments about the need to build on national parks and other beautiful parts of the country.
Schemes highlighted in the CPRE report include a major new road scheme through the Peak District and intrusive mobile homes in the Yorkshire Dales.
The relaxation of planning laws is “failing” rural areas and placing “unprecedented pressure on our most treasured countryside”, it warned.
England has 10 National Parks – most protected under law dating back to the early 1950s – covering nearly 5,000 square miles of the most beautiful countryside in the world, including Exmoor, the Peak District, Dartmoor and the Lake District.
David Cameron has previously been at pains to emphasise that National Parks and AONBs are safe from the planning reforms, which ripped up hundreds of pages of protections.
However, the CPRE has warned of a surge in the number of applications to build in national parks, AONBs and locally valued landscapes after the relaxation of planning rules.
The CPRE highlighted more than 20 developments which it said are threatening the countryside, including more than 500 houses almost entirely within the Kent Downs AONB area, near the White Cliffs of Dover.
The CPRE said national planning policy should be strengthened by giving greater weight to the protection of nationally designated and locally valued landscapes.
The campaigners also want planning inspectors to bring in new tests to put a check on building in national parks or AONBs.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Strong planning protections remain in place for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which are some of this country’s most important national treasures.
“The best way to support this is to ensure that local people who know their areas best and cherish them most are included in decisions about their future.”