AONBS & THE GREEN BELT
The Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (see here) and the Green Belt to the east of Telford and Bridgnorth, together with Sites of Special Scientific Interest, make up a colossal one-third of Shropshire Council’s area. For Telford & Wrekin the figure is only 2%.
The NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) is meant to give special protection to AONBs and the Green Belt. Its well-known footnote (now footnote 6 to paragraph 11) says that:
“the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed”.
Those “areas or assets of particular importance” are listed as:
"habitats sites (and those sites listed in paragraph 176) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park (or within the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast; irreplaceable habitats; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in footnote 63); and areas at risk of flooding or coastal change”.
“Irreplaceable habitats” includes ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees.
Caer Caradoc hillfort, Chapel Lawn, in the Shropshire Hills AONB (c) Sarah Jameson
The Redlake Valley in the Shropshire Hills AONB
(c) Sarah Jameson
Green Belt under threat
But this does not always, or forever, give the protection we might wish. Shropshire Council’s new draft Local Plan Review proposes releasing Green Belt land, now and in the future, so that more houses can be built in the M54 corridor, for instance around Shifnal and Bridgnorth. To justify this, they rely on their Green Belt Revised Exceptional Circumstances Statement, which can be found under "G" in the Draft Plan Examination library here. The Green Belt is meant to function under five headings as in paragraph 134 of the new NPPF, namely to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas; to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another; to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment; to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. It is this last aspect that is often underplayed.
AONBs under threat
AONBs are the next step down from National Parks (each of which is a planning authority in its own right) so do not get quite as much protection. The town of Church Stretton is a case in point. It is surrounded by the Shropshire Hills AONB, yet Shropshire Council thinks it must take its share of development in this latest Local Plan Review. It has nowhere to expand except into the hills.
A Government review of Green Belts and AONBs, chaired by Julian Glover, received its Terms of Reference in August 2018. Calls have been made locally for the Shropshire Hills AONB to be expanded and turned into a National Park, but don’t hold your breath on that one.
National CPRE's latest telling report, detailing just how much development has been allowed to happen in AONBs around the country, is below:
This report highlights the extent of the threat facing England’s 34 AONBs as a result of unsuitable housing developments, offering recommendations for strengthening their protection in the planning system. Landscapes that in theory hold the highest level of planning protection, are in fact facing increases in the amount of land set to be lost under concrete. This is despite repeated commitments by the Government to ‘maintain national protections for AONBs for the benefit of future generations’.
Updated March 2022