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. There are proposals under Shropshire Council’s Local Plan Review for a review of the Green Belt, so that more houses can be built in the M54 corridor, for instance around Shifnal and Bridgnorth. It is expected to be published by the end of November 2018. The first stage in this process, namely a Green Belt Assessment, was published alongside the Preferred Options documents in October 2017 (see here for the 21MB report and its 5MB of accompanying figures/maps). This Assessment looked at how the Green Belt is functioning 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.
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.
CPRE National Office released a telling report in November 2017 detailing just how much development had been allowed to happen in AONBs around the country, as below:
CPRE National Office's new research exposes the devastating upswing in mass housing developments within our treasured Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Landscapes that in theory hold the highest level of planning protection, are in fact facing a five-fold increase 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’.
As shocking as our findings may be, you can help us to defend England’s cherished AONBs and support our efforts to turn the situation around. With your support, we will:
1. Raise the alarm about the serious threats to our AONBs in the media, brief politicians from all parties, and call for the Government and local authorities to take action now.
2. Demand stronger protections for AONBs with changes to national planning policy.
3. Push for a step-change in the Government’s approach to getting the right houses built in the right places.
4. Help our local branches continue to fight inappropriate development plans within our AONBs
Updated 18th November 2018