Government-commissioned review seeks to strengthen planning powers for areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and national parks.

04 October 2019

The review of National Parks and AONBs, led by journalist Julian Glover, calls for a number of changes to the planning system to give AONB bodies a greater say in development proposals. The Landscapes Review: Final Report was published on 25th September 2019.

Appointed by former environment secretary Michael Gove to lead an independent review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), Glover and his review panel were tasked with exploring how access to protected landscapes can be improved alongside their role in growing the rural economy.
27 recommendations have been provided, however in summary, the key planning proposals in the Landscapes Review are as follows;

  • AONB bodies should become statutory consultees in the planning system and, working with their local authorities, prepare their own local plans to “set out a vision, explain how conservation and recreational purposes will be implemented and how the needs and requirements of the community will be met”. The report highlighted that currently, there is often no shared vision for the landscape as a whole with different authorities taking different approaches which results in inconsistencies with the AONBs’ purpose and character. The report confirmed that “At present, statutory consultee status for AONBs sits solely with Natural England which, as a national body, cannot be expected to know every area in the way a dedicated local AONB team does.” It added: “Statutory consultee status should encourage developers to consult AONB bodies before making a formal planning application, to facilitate good design and mitigation and – with net gain soon to be mandated – helping secure this.”
  • The government should issue new planning guidance to “make a reality” of the National Planning Policy Framework’s objective that “great weight” should be given in planning decisions to conserving and enhancing AONBs and national parks.
  • There are currently 34 AONBs in England and it is recommended within the report that these, together with national parks, should be called “national landscapes”.
  • A review of the current permitted development rights system, with a view to introducing further exemptions to such rights within national landscapes.
  • National landscapes should be allowed to use section 106 planning gain and New Homes Bonus receipts to support affordable housing, services or community infrastructure.
  • The existing duty required of national parks, to “seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of local communities in their area“, should be strengthened by making it one of their statutory purposes.

Ridge Partner Paul Fong confirmed that despite Gove’s departure from the environment secretary role, he expects the government to push ahead with the proposals, particularly in light of the fact that delivering a better outcome for the environment is currently of paramount importance.