England’s greatest landscapes at risk

England’s national parks and AONBs are being insidiously eroded by development, according to the CPRE, which has compiled a dossier of planning threats to beautiful places. This comes as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announces a curb on individuals or campaign groups challenging planning in court. ‘What other redress do the “little people” have now?’ one veteran rural campaigner asks.

As well as the high-profile threat of HS2 to the Chilterns, the charity draws attention to proposed housing developments at the fishing port of Mevagissey, north Cornwall, at Dawlish, south Devon, on the Kent Downs at Farthinghoe and in the tiny, ancient Oxfordshire village of Great Coxwell, overlooking the Vale of the White Horse. There is a second public enquiry on opencast mining in the North Pennines AONB after the planning inspector recommended it be refused, plus a proposed 174-acre solar farm in Dorset, 14 400ft-high wind turbines near Andover on the North Wessex Downs AONB, a dual carriageway across the Norfolk Broads, a cable car in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, and a ‘necklace effect’ of greenfield development around Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

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‘One of the core principles in the National Planning Policy Framework is to “recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside”,’ points out the CPRE’s Emma Marrington, author of the report Going, going, gone? England’s Disappearing Landscapes. ‘That’s why it’s so wrong that such little weight is given in planning decisions to locally valued, as well as nationally protected, landscapes. We want the Government to recognise the huge value of unprotected landscape-after all, it covers more than half of England- as well as to strengthen policies to protect the green belt.’ Reforms to the Judicial Review system mean that only those facing ‘a fair level’ of financial risk can challenge planning decisions in court.

This, the Ministry of Justice says, means some 400 cases a year will be fast-tracked, thus ending ‘the current situation where individuals or campaign groups can cause expensive delays with no cost or risk to themselves’ and driving out ‘meritless cases that clog the courts’. ‘The Government should recognise that public interest can be as important as any sectional financial interests,’ counters CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers. ‘If they remove safeguards for local groups to have their costs limited, developers could win every time.’

The CPRE and chief executives of England’s 10 national parks have expressed reservations about proposed new rules that will ease the way for farmers who want to convert redundant farm buildings-they estimate that this could involve 30,000 buildings, 6,000 of them in the Yorkshire Dales. They fear an increase in replacement agriculture buildings and in the development of barns in isolated beauty spots.

However, the CLA, which has been lobbying Government for 10 years on this topic, says there are plenty of safeguards for the landscape in the proposed change of law. ‘If the Government allowed redundant farm buildings to be converted into smallscale housing, this would help protect the future of agriculture by providing homes for people coming into farming and for members of the existing community who want to live and work in the countryside,’ explains the CLA’s Fenella Collins.

She continues: ‘National-park chiefs must accept that, at a time when public funding for the environment is being reduced, land managers must be able to generate income from sustainable use of their assets if they are to continue to conserve beautiful landscapes.

The only way of conserving former farm buildings is to find a new use for them, as offices or business centres. Surely that’s better than leaving them to fall down?’

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