A new report published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows there has been an 82% increase in new housing units given planning permission in England’s 34 AONBs in the past five years, despite repeated commitments by the Government to ‘maintain national protections for AONBs for the benefit of future generations’.
This represents almost 15,500 housing units since 2012, while the number of housing planning applications has more than doubled in that time.
Although AONBs have the highest level of planning protection, CPRE’s report Beauty betrayed: how reckless housing development threatens England’s AONBs shows a five-fold increase in the amount of AONB land set to be lost under concrete in these treasured landscapes.
The report is based on research commissioned by CPRE, and includes data from Glenigan, data specialists on the UK construction industry. It shows clear evidence that housing developers are applying increasing pressure on local authorities to build new homes on AONBs by exploiting poorly defined and conflicting national planning policy.
CPRE’s report also shows that the pressure on local authorities is set to increase, with applications for a further 12,741 homes in AONBs currently awaiting decision. Based on the 2016/17 housing approval rate of 64%, this could mean a further 8,154 units, resulting in a total of 23,639 units being approved in AONBs since 2012.
Unsurprisingly, pressure for development within AONBs – defined by the number of applications, approvals and housing units – is highest in the South East and South West. In these areas, just eight AONBs account for 74% of all housing applications and 79% of all approvals from 2012-2017.
Emma Marrington, CPRE Senior Rural Policy Campaigner, said, “What is, in effect, a sell-off of AONBs is surely among the worst examples of misguided housing policy, where the drive to build more houses, any houses, no matter how unaffordable, to meet housing targets, is at the cost of our most beautiful landscapes.
“While CPRE advocates the building of right homes in the right places, AONBs are not the right place. On top of this, current development on AONBs shows little evidence that what’s built will actually help solve the housing crisis, which is more to do with affordability than lack of land.”
England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) cover 15% of the country. Their origins stem from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, presented as a gift to the nation for its war-time sacrifices.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says that: ‘Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in AONBs, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.’ Government policy also allows housing targets to be lower in designated areas and 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.
Although AONBs rely on local authorities and planning inspectors for their protection, the sheer weight of applications and appeals means that large and inappropriate housing developments are getting through as local authorities struggle under pressure from developers.