National Planning Policy Framework and AONBs

In March 2012, the Department for Communities and Local Government published the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. The Framework states that: 'At the heart of the NPPF is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be viewed as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking'.

'Sustainable Development' is defined as having three dimensions: environmental, economic and social.  It goes on to define these dimensions in more detail:

These dimensions give rise to the need for the planning system to perform a number of roles:

  • an economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provision of infrastructure;
  • a social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with accessible local services that reflect the community’s needs and support its health, social and cultural well-being; and
  • an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy.

...These roles should not be undertaken in isolation, because they are mutually dependent.'

The NPPF also provides specific planning guidance for development planning and decision-making in relation to AONBs. It confirms that great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty, and that AONBs have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.   AONBs and their management plans are material considerations in planning.   The ‘great weight test’ is significant and it is one of the most stringent legal tests that can be applied under planning law.   In specific relation to major development[1], the NPPF states that planning permission should be refused for major developments in AONBs except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.

The NPPF confirms that local planning authorities should set out the strategic priorities for their areas within Local Plans and accordingly deliver the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment, including landscape.  The NPPF also confirms that allocations of land for development should prefer land of lesser environmental value (counting the AONB as high value), that local planning authorities should set evidence and criteria based policies against which proposals for any development on or affecting landscape areas will be judged (development affecting AONBs includes impact on their setting) and that planning should contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment.

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[1]The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010