Many designated beauty spots are at risk from the Government’s plans to make it easier for “sustainable development” to take place in the countryside, it has been claimed.
Under the law, developers have a “duty of regard” for locations listed as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and are only supposed to build on such land in exceptional circumstances.
But under new planning rules, which put more emphasis on development and less on the countryside’s natural beauty, more of England’s unique landscapes are under threat, according to a study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
It suggests that 21 out of the 33 AONBs in England are at risk from development.
Examples include proposals for a golf course in the Surrey Hills, chicken sheds in the Cotswolds and various schemes for pylons, wind farms and rail links. An industrial estate with a 400-space car park could be built in a valley in Devon.
A new economic development Bill next month is expected to stimulate the building sector by urging councils to consider business opportunities for rural areas.
Councils are required to set out in Local Plans where development can take place. The plans were introduced in part to enable local residents to have more of a say in how their area is affected by development. Many councils still have to draw up their plans, and areas not covered could be at risk of sustainable development.
East Devon District Council has rubber-stamped a Local Plan that includes the proposal to allow industrial development in Sidmouth AONB to “promote job opportunities”.
Alan Darrant, chairman of Sidmouth Vale Association, said that there were around 400 empty commercial units in East Devon. “AONBs should only be built on for the national good or in exceptional circumstances,” he said.
Neil Sinden, head of policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that because of the downturn in the economy, councils were under more pressure to create jobs and campaigners were less well-resourced.
The National Planning Policy Framework, which The Daily Telegraph campaigned against, is due to be replaced by even more development-friendly regulations in the new Bill.
Howard Davies, chief executive officer of the National Association for AONBs, said government plans had watered down the emphasis on natural beauty, meaning it would be much more difficult for protesters to stop developments.
The Department for Communities and Local Government insisted AONBs were protected. “The Government has repeatedly made clear that our reforms safeguard the countryside and the new framework maintains previous protections for the green belt and countryside, including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” a spokesman said.
Photograph: AONB near Sidbury.