Huge increase in threats to England’s celebrated landscapes from major housing developments
New independent research [see below*] shows there has been an 82 per cent increase in new housing units given planning permission in England’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the past five years, despite the fact that national planning policy gives them 'the highest status of protection' from damaging development.
The North Wessex Downs AONB - which includes the wider Marlborough area - is one of eight Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty most affected. The North Wessex Downs AONB objected to the development in Marlborough on former Crown Estate land beside the Salisbury Road. Their objection was in vain, but it was part of the reason plans were altered to move the upper limit of the new housing down to a lower contour - so making it a little less obtrusive in the AONB landscape.
These research findings are highlighted in a report - Beauty betrayed: how reckless housing development threatens England’s AONBs - published today (November 15) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
Although AONBs are nationally protected landscapes, the research shows a five-fold increase since 2012 in the amount of AONB land set to be lost to development.
The report shows clear evidence of increasing pressure from developers and local authorities to build new homes in AONBs by exploiting poorly defined and conflicting national planning policy.
Unsurprisingly, pressure for development within AONBs is highest in the South East and South West. The North Wessex Downs is one of just eight AONBs which account for 74 per cent of all housing applications and 79 per cent of all approvals from 2012-2017.
Henry Oliver, Director of the North Wessex Downs AONB, agrees that AONBs are coming under unprecedented development pressure: "Since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published in 2012 we have seen a dramatic increase in pressure for major development in and around the North Wessex Downs AONB.”
"The full impact cannot be measured yet as some sites are still in the planning stage and where permissions have been given recently the houses are not yet built. What is certain is that the natural beauty for which this landscape is officially protected will suffer as a result.”
"This research highlights the fact that the protections that should be in place are just not working.”
Government policy recommends that 'major developments', including housing schemes, should be refused except in 'exceptional circumstances'. However, both of these terms are poorly defined, creating loopholes that are often exploited by developers and others.
Examples of major housing developments proposed or approved in the North Wessex Downs in the last five years include:
• Hungerford, Berkshire - approval of 100 new homes on greenfield land despite no “exceptional circumstances” having been shown.
• Marlborough, Wiltshire - promotion and approval of 167 houses and a hotel on greenfield land despite landscape impact.
• Harwell, Oxfordshire – 1,000 houses proposed despite previous proposals being rejected by a planning inspector.
The research report makes a number of recommendations to address the problems, including a robust Ministerial Statement affirming Government support for protecting AONBs, and encouragement for local planning authorities to set a strong interpretation of national policy as found in National Parks.
* D Dixon, N Sinden and T Crabtree: An Independent Review of Housing in England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty 2012-17, 2017.