Many of England’s most picturesque countryside areas are increasingly being built on, new statistics show.
Despite having the highest level of protection, a loophole in planning law means councils have to let developers build new homes in beauty spots.
Figures uncovered by the Campaign to Preserve Rural England (CPRE) reveal more than 15,000 applications have been made to build on protected sites.
So far 4,369 in 2016-17 have received planning permission already, with decisions pending on a further 12,741 homes.
Figures uncovered by the Campaign to Preserve Rural England (CPRE) reveal more than 15,000 applications have been made to build on protected sites
On current rates of approval, CPRE expects around 8,000 will be built.
This compares to just 2,396 being granted planning permission in 2012-2013.
The research by independent consultants for the CPRE also found the average number of homes approved in each scheme has increased, as has the amount of land given over to housing in the landscapes.
Areas of outstanding natural beauty cover around 15 per cent of England, from the Cotswolds to the North Pennines and contain some of the most beautiful landscapes outside national parks.
Development pressure – particularly in the south west and south east – means that despite these areas normally receiving the highest amount of protection, planning permission is being granted by councils thanks to a loophole in regulations.
Where councils cannot demonstrate a ‘five-year land supply’ for new housing, or do not have a local plan in place, planning policy encourages developers to submit speculative housing applications, even in protected areas, the campaign group said.
The number of decisions to turn down major housing developments in the AONBs which are appealed is on the rise, but a growing proportion of the appeals are being rejected by government planning inspectors, the report found.
CPRE argues the increase in rejections shows councils could be tougher on developers seeking to build in the protected landscapes.
One example of a landscape under threat include Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs AONB, by the White Cliffs of Dover – where developers received planning permission to build 521 homes.
So far 4,369 in 2016-17 have received planning permission already, with decisions pending on a further 12,741 homes
According to legend, the spectacular valley inspired a scene in King Lear, hence the name of Shakespeare Cliff.
After a four year battle, the Court of Appeal quashed planning permission.
Now the CPRE is waiting to see if the decision will be upheld by the Supreme Court.
Another is High Weald AONB at Pease Pottage where Mid Sussex District Council last year approved building 600 houses at Pease Pottage.
Despite objections that the site was inappropriate and the houses would not meat local need, the development has been approved ‘sacrificing a treasured landscape and setting a deeply troubling precedent for large-scale housing development in AONBs.’
Emma Marrington, of the CPRE, said: ‘What is, in effect, a sell-off of AONBs is surely among the worst examples of misguided housing policy, where the drive to build more houses, any houses, no matter how unaffordable, to meet housing targets, is at the cost of our most beautiful landscapes.
One example of a landscape under threat include Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs AONB, by the White Cliffs of Dover – where developers received planning permission to build 521 homes
‘While CPRE advocates the building of right homes in the right places, AONBs are not the right place.
‘On top of this, current development on AONBs shows little evidence that what’s built will actually help solve the housing crisis, which is more to do with affordability than lack of land.’
CPRE is calling on the Government to toughen up planning policy on large housing developments in AONBs, include targets in a promised long-term environment plan to emphasise the importance of the treasured landscapes and give all such areas the right to be consulted on major development proposals in their area.
The charity also wants the new homes bonus to be reformed so it does not encourage large-scale house-building in the areas and for statistics to be published each year on rates of development and changes in land use in AONBs, similar to those already published for green belt land.