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Can I develop my land in an AONB?


An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an area of land which has been protected by law in order to enhance, preserve and conserve its natural beauty. The areas are selected based on the significant value of their landscape and are deemed precious enough to be safeguarded for the national interest.


As set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act), AONBs are assessed and designated by Natural England and various authorities and organisations are responsible for the management of these areas.


AONBs in the UK


There are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK, including areas in Cornwall, the North Pennines and the Dee Valley. AONBs can be found in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland have their own similar system.


Areas of Natural Beauty can range from ancient woodlands and picturesque villages to moorlands and rolling meadows. In November 2020, the UK government announced plans to create more national parks and designate more areas as AONBs in their 25-year environment plan.


What constitutes an AONB?


In order to be designated as an AONB, an area must demonstrate a range of unique attributes which are of importance to the public and the environment. Whether an area meets the criteria is the responsibility of Natural England. The criteria for natural beauty include:


- Scenic quality

- Relative tranquillity

- Cultural heritag

- Landscape quality

- Distance from housing

- Distinctive geology, habitats or species


There are multiple types of protected sites and areas, including AONBs, the heritage coast, National Parks and SSSIs. All of them have strict criteria for planning permission to be granted.


What makes an AONB different?


Once an application for planning permission has been submitted for an AONB, the relevant planning authority will make the decision on whether or not to grant it.


The decision can also be taken by the Secretary of State and any proposals must demonstrate regard for conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area.


Compared to brownfield sites, gaining planning permission for a development in an AONB is a significantly longer, more complicated process.


Permitted Developments on AONBs


As AONBs are protected by law, property development rights are reduced, but it is not impossible.


With increasing pressure to find space for housing and developments, there are cases where developments have been constructed on AONBs. It is crucial that any planned development has been discussed with local planning authorities and that the application demonstrates respect for its natural environment.


When permission is granted, the development should be sensitively located and designed to minimise the impact on the environment. It is also important to consider ways in which the development could protect and enhance biodiversity and promote the conservation of habitats.


Can you ever get permission to build in an AONB?


In general, gaining planning permission for major development is very rare, and each AONB must have a management plan which is reviewed every five years. Even when installing utility services like cables or making a new public access route, a Local Authority must consider how it will affect an AONB.


If a development may have a significant impact on the local environment, it is important to consult Natural England about the planning proposal. The framework regarding development on AONBs also suggests that the scale and extent of developments should be limited.


Exceptional circumstances for developments


Though planning permission is harder to obtain in an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty, if the developer can prove the need and genuine benefit of the project, there are cases where permission can be granted.


In some cases, like the Highfield Farm, Tetbury case which gained national attention after being brought to the high court, development was approved on greenfield land due to the need for homes in the area.


Regulations concerning AONBs


According to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF), planning permission should be refused for major developments in AONBs unless there are exceptional circumstances where applications are deemed to be in the interests of the public.


In article 177, the policy sets out that when considering developing on an AONB, the impact on the local economy, landscape and environment should be assessed as well as the need for development in the area.


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