How the AONB Service is involved in the planning process, planning application comments and guidance documents.
The Quantock Hills was the first landscape in England to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (1956). The primary purpose of AONB designation is the conservation and enhancement of the landscape's natural beauty. The Quantock Hills AONB Service, on behalf of its Joint Advisory Committee, undertakes its work according to this primary purpose - to ensure this beautiful and nationally protected landscape remains outstanding now and into the future.
What are AONBs?
AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is a statutory designation. AONBs are areas of high scenic quality that are protected through legislation. They are designated solely for their landscape qualities - for the purpose of conserving and enhancing their natural beauty (which includes landform and geology, plants and animals, landscape features and the rich history of human settlement over the centuries).
AONB and Planning
The Quantock Hills, like all AONBs in England and Wales, is not a Planning Authority. Although afforded the same level of protection as National Parks, AONBs do not share the same planning control powers (they do not have the authority to make planning decisions) and are involved in the planning process in a completely different way. The responsibility for planning within AONBs (both the development of policy and the day to day dealing with planning applications) falls to the constituent Local Planning Authorities that cross them.
In the case of the Quantock Hills AONB these authorities are:
Sedgemoor District Council
Somerset West & Taunton Council
Comments from the AONB on recent planning applications can be found on the local authorities websites (click on the logos to link to their websites). You will need the relevant planning reference number, but you can also search by village.
How is the AONB Service involved in the planning process?
Although not having any decision-making powers, it is essential that the AONB Service plays an active role in planning issues affecting the Quantock Hills. It is important that the AONB Service does not repeat the work of the Local Authority Planning Officers. Instead our aim is to add value to their work – providing useful information about the Quantock Hills and their surroundings that will aid the Planning Officers in making decisions on planning application cases and in developing policy and guidance. The AONB Service therefore seeks in its work to make a positive contribution to the planning process by heightening awareness of the special qualities of the Quantock Hills AONB and of the need to protect the landscape from inappropriate development. This is always done in the context of the AONB’s primary purpose – to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape.
If it can’t make planning decisions how does the AONB Service engage with and have an influence on Planning?
The Quantock Hills AONB Service currently employs a part-time Landscape Planning Officer who works two days a week. The Landscape Planner’s main purpose is to meet one of Natural England’s Core Functions. This is outlined below. Core Function K: Providing landscape related planning advice which is “influencing planning policies (e.g. spatial strategies, local development frameworks, local development documents) and supplementary guidance such as design guides and development control decisions in line with AONB purposes”. Natural England guidance, supported by the Quantock Hills JAC, is that the limited resources of an AONB Service are best spent by influencing policy and guidance (strategic planning work). Involvement in development control cases has to be selective and should not account for the majority of the Landscape Planning Officer’s workload.
What does the AONB designation mean and how does it influence planning?
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are protected under the provisions of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, in order to secure their permanent protection against development that would damage their special qualities, thus conserving a number of the finest landscapes in England for the nation’s benefit. To find out more about AONBs, go to the Natural England’s website. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000 bought in new measures to help protect AONBs further - by clarifying the role of local authorities, Natural England and other organisations in respect of AONBs. This includes a statutory requirement for local authorities to produce a Management Plan and places a duty on all public bodies and statutory undertakers to have regard for the purposes of the designation when carrying out their function. Put simply, in terms of planning, this means that the planning decisions and policy development made by the Local Planning Authorities should respect the AONB’s purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the landscape.
Planning Guidance Documents you can download:
Horses, the Landscape and You
Quantock Hills Management Plan 2019 - 2024
Quantock Hills Landscape Character Assessment 2018