Planning Policy

For many years AONBs were mostly a line on a map. But by the 1980s and early 1990s, the threats to the special qualities of AONBs, coming from intensification of farming as well as inappropriate development, brought greater emphasis on the role and purpose of the landscape in planning matters.

Through its review and recommendations for ‘Finest Countryside’, the Countryside Commission made a case to government that the legal basis of AONBs was not strong enough, and this resulted in the Countryside & Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000. Through this legislation AONB Management Plans became statutory, Conservation Boards were enabled and a duty of regard for conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of AONBs placed on local authorities.  The Management Plan is a material consideration in planning (see chapter 7 for development policies).

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out national policy in England, and Paragraph 172 states that “Great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to these issues.” It goes on to set out that “Planning permission should be refused for major development other than in exceptional circumstances, and where it can be demonstrated that the development is in the public interest.”

The National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) is published by Government to provide amplification on the NPPF and explain key issues in implementing the policy Framework. The guidance on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty was updated in 2019.

The Guidance confirms that the Duty of Regard set out at Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is applicable to all local planning authorities and is relevant in considering development proposals that are situated outside of AONB boundaries but which impact on their setting.

Planning policy and decisions to protect the natural beauty and character of AONBs are the only real regulatory aspect of the designation and, under the NPPF and NPPG, are the responsibility of local authorities. This does not mean that there should be no development but that any development should complement the character of the landscape, is sustainable and is of an appropriate scale and nature.

Our Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) already have landscape policies specifically linked to the North Wessex Downs AONB.  We are working with LPAs to improve the robustness of these to ensure a landscape-led approach is taken at the plan-making and decision-making stages. Any development proposal must be in accordance with the relevant local authority’s Development Plan, including core strategies, local plans, neighbourhood plans and any supplementary planning documents adopted by the LPA.


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