Sally Marsh – Planning Issues and AONB Management Plans

The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
One of England’s Finest Landscapes
Planning Issues and AONB
Management Plans
Sally Marsh
High Weald AONB
The growth agenda
Housing development
• New development
•On the edge of the AONB and affecting the integrity of the
AONB boundary
•On “sustainable “ village edge locations. Can be substantial 100 – 250 houses
•Small scale and infill, may include affordable housing as
•Change of use and redevelopment
•Expansion, modification and
replacement of existing dwellings
Housing pressure in the
High Weald AONB
• Changes in permitted development rights for
homeowners, and changes of use
• Office to residential - B1(a) office space c/u to C3
• Agricultural to commercial uses - Redundant agricultural
buildings c/u to employment, hotel, leisure uses
• Suspension of Section 85 ‘duty of regard’
under Growth & Infrastructure bill section 7
Erosion of AONB “policy of restraint”
Planning principles
Planning principles
• AONB is a rural designation: legal framework
provided by Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
(CRoW) and overseen by Defra
• But AONBs have little or no Planning status;
– Not designated by the LPA
– Not defined by local plans (unlike National Parks)
– Not referred to in the planning acts
– Little policy relating to them
• To what extent does DCLG understand AONBs?
Separate systems
• AONBs are perceived by the public to have a
planning function and most people come into
contact with them through planning
• People expect the AONB to have a greater influence
on planning issues than it actually does
• In reality of course it is about balance and a
weighing of issues
• The AONB can always be (democratically) over-ruled
by other planning issues
it is important that the impacts on the AONB are
properly recognised and accounted for in decision
The planning system
The Planning System
•NPPF (National Planning
Policy Framework)
•Development Plan - Local
Plans (including core
strategies, development plan
documents, SPDs )/
Neighbourhood Plans
•Development control
•Planning appeal system
Planning Principles
Local plans and neighbourhood plans must be consistent
with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF )
Planning decisions must be taken in accordance with the
Development Plan unless material considerations indicate
AONB Management Plans are a ‘material consideration’
that can be taken into account
No requirement that they have to be considered or that
they carry anymore weight than other considerations.
But there are examples where they have been significant in
planning decisions
NPPF : Key principles
A presumption in favour of sustainable development
BUT the presumption in favour of sustainable
development may not apply in AONB’s - this has
yet to be tested at appeal!
Para 14:
• ‘Local plans should meet objectively assessed needs’ and
‘where the development plan is absent or silent permission
should be granted’ unless specific policies in this framework
indicate development should be restricted. For example
...those policies relating to ..sites protected under the birds
and habitats directives ; AONB...or within a National Park
• Actual planning policy relating to AONBs is
• National policy for AONBs is contained in
just two paras - 115 and 116 These are the
only strategic references to AONB’s and the only statement
of the role of AONBs in the planning system
• Para 115 – ‘Great weight should be given to
conserving landscape and scenic beauty which
has the highest status of protection in relation to
landscape and scenic beauty
NPPF Policy wording
Natural Beauty
Landscape and
Scenic Beauty
Great Weight
Highest status
(of protection)
Landscape and Scenic Beauty
Great Weight
Highest status
Major development
Para 116 states that major development should be
refused except in exceptional circumstances.
Three tests need to be rigorously and systematically
the need for the development, including in terms of any
national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or
refusing it, upon the local economy;
the cost of, and scope for, developing elsewhere outside the
designated area, or meeting the need for it in some other
way; and
any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape
and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that
could be moderated.
Our role
• We can provide expert evidence on the impact of
the development on the purpose of AONB
designation - natural beauty (or landscape and
scenic beauty)
• to enable decision makers (LPAs or planning inspectors)
to properly weigh the harm to the AONB against any
demonstrated need for the development.
• AONB Management Plans are the key
• We need to define ‘natural beauty’ in a
coordinated and consistent way
Does use of LCAs and LVIA
lead to better
development decisions in
Assessing landscape impact
in the planning system
• Categorize and sub-divide
• Describe landscape units in a
‘value free’ way
• Claim to be objective
• Use a template of standard
descriptive phrases
• Consider all landscape
elements but with emphasis on
the visual
• Other aspects such as geology
and heritage are ‘layered’ on in
LCAs in the High Weald AONB
LVIA at its worst
• Proposal for 160 houses in the AONB on the edge of Hawkhurst
This report demonstrates that the proposed development …..incorporating
the necessary mitigation measures, in particular new tree and hedgerow
planting could be successfully accommodated and assimilated into the
surrounding landscape without causing significant or unacceptable harm to
the landscape character, visual amenity or landscape features of the area.
• Proposal for new primary school at Etchingham in the AONB
The boundaries of the site would be reinforced and softened with new
hedgerow planting proposals, and native tree planting groups, softening and
filtering views into the development area from the surrounding rural
landscape. In summary, the development proposals are largely enclosed and
contained within the existing site vegetation, and the proposed woodland
and hedgerow boundary planting proposals to the east, north, and northwestern edges, and the change in land use and visual impact would be
Visual impact v physical harm
• There is an over reliance on visual and
scenic concerns at the expense of assessing
character and harm to the physical fabric of
the landscape
• The language can be misleading – from the
ground an ‘enclosed’ landscape can become
one of ‘concealment and views revealed’
resulting in different policy responses
• Seek recognition that most development will
have real and actual physical impacts
Many applications try to explain away real harm to excuse
• Harm will occur and needs to be explicitly
recognised and assessed
Development ALWAYS results in change but not all change is
damaging – understand capacity, assess impact and make a
Mitigation is a response to harm, a way of ameliorating but not
eliminating impact - not justification for allowing the
The myth of containment
• the approach of simply “containing” development,
using additional planting to increase the “enclosure”
is not a responsible approach to the conservation and
enhancement of the AONB.
• Simple screening or hiding development does not
reduce or mitigate harm, it is a metaphorical
‘sweeping under the carpet’
• The harm has still occurred, the loss of amenity and
character has still occurred and the character of the
AONB has been altered regardless of whether it can
be seen or not.
Management Plan
Defining natural beauty:
The statement of significance
- Note the word Significance
Not a general description of the landscape: It needs to
identify what makes the area distinctive
- what defines character at an AONB scale? - the
fundamental and defining character of the AONB
as a whole not features that may describe sub-areas or be
distinctive at a local level
- what makes the AONB distinctive, special and
different from surrounding areas?
(assess survival and capacity for change - distinguish between
characteristics that are transitory and those that have a long
time depth)
Statement of Significance:
• Understand the landscaper over time
To determine historic depth, meaning and function
• Identify the core components of character
that define the AONB as a whole
Unifying characteristics, unique pattern of physical components
• Separate objectively determined character
components from more subjective perceptual
and aesthetic qualities so we can distinguish between
damage to the physical fabric of the landscape and impairment
of our enjoyment of it (views)
Making sure LVIAs work for
• Doesn’t mean perceptual and aesthetic qualities are not
important but they are more difficult to deal with and we need to
construct different arguments around them
• Doesn’t mean that LCAs are not important - All landscapes
matter to people at a local level and LCAs are an excellent tool to
determine local distinctiveness
• For development in AONBs we need to make sure both parts of
the LVIA are applied properly
• Landscape impact assessment needs to operate at TWO levels
– assessing impact on individual local landscape elements with
a clearly separate and additional layer looking a impact on
AONB character components which are of higher status and
score higher in terms of sensitivity
High Weald: Statement of
Ridged and
and gill
A mosaic of
small fields
extent of
ted ancient
One of the best preserved medieval
landscapes in North-West Europe
pattern of
Character components that define
the AONB as a whole: Gills
Character components that define the
AONB as a whole: dispersed settlement
Appeal decision,
High Weald AONB, 1st Feb 2013,
AONB responses to development
proposals and planning inquiries
• Be clear about direct physical impacts on landscape
not just visual harm
– use the MP Statement of Significance
- insist LVIAs deal with higher level AONB characteristics
separately from local landscape features, affording the
former greater weight
• Any damage to AONB character should be resisted by
AONB Units – there is no graduation of status or
• Only once the impact has been properly
acknowledged and a judgement been made by
others, weighing harm to the AONB against the need
for and justification of the development, should any
mitigation or compensation proposal come into play
Other planning challenges
• Referencing in Core Strategies
Essential to have AONB referenced in Core Strategy
• Policy at highest policy level
Always seek to get AONB referred to in the highest
level of policy making, it all cascades down
• Maintaining AONB profile
Need to ensure that the profile of AONB is not diluted
or subsumed into other ‘general’ policy
• Use other relevant NPPF paragraphs to
support AONB character
Thank you
• NPPF para 64 - Permission should be refused for
development of poor design
• Develop design principles to support para 58
.....Development should..function well...establish a
strong sense of place ..and respond to local
• Work with county archaeologists to ensure
character components identified in statement of
significance are recorded on HER (para 169
• Ensure character and qualities are reflected in local
landscape character assessments (pata 170)
• Identify how biodiversity and ecosystem assets
identified in the Statement of Significance
contribute to Ecological Network strategies (para
• Carry out dark skies analysis to inform
requirement to limit light pollution (para 125)
• Identify areas free from noise pollution to
inform requirement to protect tranquillity (para
• Revise the Ancient Woodland Inventory to
include woodlands less than 2ha to support
protection for irreplaceable habitats (para 118)
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