AONB Planning Protocol

A new agreement between the South Devon AONB Partnership and the planning authorities administering land in the AONB was adopted in February 2011.  The Society put forward a number of recommendations, not all of which were accepted.  The text is below.

SOUTH DEVON AONB PARTNERSHIP

Protocol for AONB Unit Involvement in Planning and Development Control Issues

Background

The South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated by Government in 1960;

The primary statutory purpose of an AONB is the conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty;

All public bodies are under a statutory duty to have regard for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB when exercising or conducting any functions affecting land in the AONB (note 1);

The South Devon AONB has four planning authorities. (98.02% of the AONB lies in the South Hams/Devon County administrative area; 1.95% lies in Torbay; and 0.03% lies in Plymouth City);

Planning policy

Government has confirmed that AONBs share with National Parks the same highest status of protection through the planning system in relation to landscape and scenic beauty, and that their landscape qualities are equivalent (2) ;

The current planning policies for AONBs are set out in:

  • County Structure Plan Policy CO3: In designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the conservation and enhancement of their natural beauty will be given priority over other considerations. Within these areas, development will only be provided for where it would support their conservation or enhancement or would foster their social and economic well-being provided that such development is compatible with their conservation. Particular care will also be taken to ensure that any development proposed adjacent to such areas does not damage their natural beauty (3);

  • South Hams Core Strategy Policy CS9: In designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty their conservation and enhancement will be given great weight. On sites outside Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty…development would not be permitted which would damage their natural beauty, character and special qualities, or prejudice achievement of their designated purposes (4).

On average, a thousand planning applications are made for developments in the South Devon AONB each year. Only a small proportion of these have a significant impact; however the cumulative impact of small developments can have a significant impact on a locality over time;

A 2007 study (5) indicated that the South Devon AONB had the second highest proportion of land designated as urban of all the 35 English AONBs and the highest rate of loss of greenfield land to development;

The AONB Partnership

The care of the South Devon AONB is co-ordinated and overseen by a Partnership Committee comprising local and statutory authorities and community representatives.

An AONB staff unit is employed to act on behalf of the AONB Partnership. South Hams District Council acts as employing and host authority of the AONB Staff Unit on behalf of the AONB Partnership.

The AONB Partnership oversees the publication of the statutory Management Plan, which sets out the special qualities and management policies for the South Devon AONB. The Plan is available in hard copy and on the AONB website (6).

The AONB Partnership also hosts an Estuaries Steering Group and the South Devon AONB Estuaries Officer, and produces a series of Estuary Management Plans.

The role of the AONB Staff Unit in planning and development issues

The AONB Unit is not a statutory consultee in the planning process. However, the AONB Unit is entitled to comment on any planning application or matter affecting the AONB and there is an expectation that the AONB Unit will contribute to the shaping of development policies and to the consideration of significant development proposals.

The AONB Unit, acting on behalf of the AONB Partnership, will therefore:

  1. seek to make a positive contribution to regional, local and unitary planning policies affecting the AONB through the development plan process;

  1. provide constructive advice and information relating to development proposals and planning policy in response to requests from planning authorities;

  1. comment on individual development proposals in cases where they would have a significant impact on the character of the AONB or where they could be perceived as establishing an important precedent for future applications.

In considering planning policies and individual applications, the AONB Unit's main concern will be the primary purpose of the statutory designation of the AONB - the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the landscape. However, in forming a view, the Manager will also bear in mind the desirability of fostering the economic and social well-being of local communities where this is compatible with the conservation of the AONB. Any representations made by the AONB Unit will be based on the objectives and policies contained in the AONB Management Plan.

The estuaries are included within the AONB boundary and are subject to an extensive range of additional conservation designations. The AONB Estuaries Officer will therefore comment on wildlife and habitat implications of development proposals affecting the foreshore and inshore waters, in addition to landscape and visual considerations.

The Planning Authorities

The Planning Authorities will:

  1. continue to give the AONB the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty, through the exercise of their planning functions, and to reflect this in appropriate planning policies.

  1. involve the AONB Unit as a consultee in the process of revising and producing Local Development Framework plans (or any equivalent plans following changes to planning legislation).

  1. consult the AONB Unit on any significant development proposals affecting the character of the AONB (whether sited inside the AONB or in the areas closely adjoining it) as defined below, as early in the planning process as possible.

Significant Developments

The AONB Unit would normally expect to be consulted on development proposals in the AONB or within close proximity to the boundary, which fall into the following categories. This is not an exhaustive list, and other proposals may be relevant.

Residential Development:

•  outside development boundaries: applications involving three or more dwellings (or, where the number of dwellings is not indicated, the site area is 0.2 hectares or greater), including sites specifically allocated for residential use in an approved plan;

•   inside development boundaries: applications involving major development which will have a significant impact on the wider area;

•   conversions of agricultural buildings.

Recreation and outdoor sporting facilities:

   tourist accommodation (caravans, camping and the provision of self-catering and other holiday accommodation)

   new lakes, ponds, golf courses, off-road vehicle courses and other significant landscape features;

•   horse related development.

Employment development and agricultural development (including pre-notification applications:

 •  non-residential/business development generally involving more than 500 square metres of floor space, or where the site area is one hectare or more.

 • large or isolated new agricultural buildings; farm access tracks and associated infrastructure.

Minerals and waste disposal:

•  new or extended operational areas, or the restoration of old or existing sites;

•  reviews of old mineral permissions.

Infrastructure

•  public car parks;

•  new roads;

•  significant water resource or sewage treatment facilities;

•  wind turbines, commercial-scale solar arrays, and other visually prominent renewable energy installations.

Utilities (including pre-notification applications):

 • energy transmission infrastructure such as overhead electricity lines, cross-country pipelines or similar installations;

•  telecommunications masts and towers.

Seashore and estuary developments:

•  all proposals having immediate impact on the foreshore or inshore waters, including jetties, slipways, boathouses etc;

•  coast defences.

Environmental impact assessments:

•  including scoping requests.

Any other development proposals which:

•  by virtue of their particular characteristics (e.g. prominent site, location or design), or because of their cumulative impact, are likely to have a significant effect on the landscape or special character of the AONB; 

•  would affect currently undeveloped and remote areas of coastline and estuaries and prominent skylines;

•  would impact on popular recreational trails such as the South West Coast Path and estuary trails in the AONB, whether by affecting the route of the trail itself or the quality of experience for users of the trails.

Process

The planning authority will:

a)  Consult the AONB Office at an early stage during the process of revising and producing Local Development Framework documents affecting the AONB;

b)  Refer relevant planning applications to the AONB Unit for comment, identifying those likely to have a significant impact at the validation stage;

c)  Consider involving the AONB Unit in pre-application discussions where it considers that the scale or impact of a development is likely to be particularly significant;

d)  Supply sufficient details about the submitted application to enable informed comments to be made;

e)  If no substantive response is received within the deadline set out in the consultation letter, conclude that the AONB Unit has no comments to make on a proposal;

f)   Record and treat a written comment the AONB Unit as a representation from an outside body, rather than as an internal officer comment;

g)  Send copies of decision notices and any subsequent appeal decisions, to the AONB Unit in relation to applications it has commented on.

The AONB Unit will:

a)  Scan the listings of registered planning applications to identify any significant ones requiring AONB Office input;

b)   In consultation with the appropriate case officers or landscape officer, arrange site visits and make any written comments on planning consultations;

c)   Refer to the relevant AONB Management Plan objective or policy applicable to the development in any comments made;

d)   Relate comments to relevant LDF planning policies;

e)  Explain to those who lobby the AONB Unit for comments on particular applications that it will only do so where there is likely to be a significant impact on the landscape character of the AONB (8).

f)   Confirm that comments made are those of the AONB Unit in its professional capacity and not of the AONB Partnership collectively;

g)   Attend appeals or inquiries only where previous AONB comments have been made on the application which is the subject of the appeal/inquiry.

Review

This protocol will be reviewed on or before September 2011, and revised as appropriate.


Adopted with amendments February 2011.

Notes

1 Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, Section 85.

2 Government Planning Policy Statement 7 Sustainable Development In Rural Areas, para 21 Nationally Designated Areas.

3 Devon Structure Plan 2001-16 Policy CO3 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

4 South Hams LDF Core Strategy Policy CS9 Landscape and Historic Environment.

5 Land use change indicators for protected areas and tabulations. This report was prepared for Natural England by the Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield, December 2007.

6 See www.southdevonaonb.org.uk - publications page - for the AONB Management Plan

7 As a small staff team, there will be occasions when the AONB Unit will be unable to respond to consultations because of the range of other projects, activities and casework going on at any time.

8 The AONB Manager will not be concerned with applications, or aspects of applications, which it regards as relating solely to the private interests of an individual or group of individuals. Even on matters of public interest, it may decide to leave extensive comment to bodies or organisations better placed to provide it.