Our AONBs are under threat like never before, new report reveals

Essex is blessed with two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs): Dedham Vale and Suffolk Coast and Heaths… all right, we share them with Suffolk, but they are both wonderful stretches of countryside.
AONBs are some of the country’s most precious landscapes, which you might expect to mean they were safe from being built on. But even though these areas have the strongest protections available in planning law, they are falling foul to an increasing amount of rapid and reckless housing development, according to new analysis from CPRE, the countryside charity.
Threats to England’s 34 AONBs from development are increasing at an alarming rate – the report Beauty still betrayed: The state of our AONBs 2021 reveals a 129 per cent increase in the amount of greenfield land planned to be built over.
The research, conducted by Glennigan Consultancy on behalf of CPRE, has found that high housing pressure is also being applied to land around AONBs, with the number of homes built in the setting (within 500 metres of the boundary) increasing by 135 per cent since 2012.
It is clear this kind of sprawling development is bad for people, nature and the countryside. The research found that the developments on AONBs use up twice as much land compared with the national average for developments.
Yet only 16 per cent of the homes built in AONBs are considered affordable even by the government’s own definition.
Clear evidence shows that the real affordability of housing in many rural areas is much worse than the government estimates. Tragically, the kind of housing being provided will do little to tackle the affordable housing crisis while concreting over precious countryside and setting back action to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, 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 while undermining climate action, stalling nature’s recovery and gobbling up our most precious green space that’s vital for our health and well-being, all while doing next to nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis.
“Rural communities are crying out for well-designed, quality and genuinely 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 our AONBs, with particular pressure on AONB land in the South East and South West. In these areas, more than half (52 per cent) of all planning permissions for development on greenfield land in AONBs have been granted.
CPRE is calling on the government to use the upcoming Planning Bill to strengthen planning protections for precious green space and prevent high levels of development in AONBs and, further still, only allow development if it meets the needs of local people, nature and the countryside.

  • You can read Beauty still betrayed: The state of our AONBs 2021 here



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