Wednesday 17 August 2016
The Chilterns Conservation Board is currently responding to a number of draft Local Plans produced by local authorities which will allocate sites for housing and employment over the next 20 years.
The pressure on authorities to meet housing numbers is so great that some are considering sites in the green belt and in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Conservation Board is very concerned that this push to build could result in the permanent degradation of the nationally-protected AONB and in its responses is urging local authorities to assess the full impact of locating development in the Chilterns.
Building in the Chilterns AONB doesn’t just have a visual impact on the landscape, it can also result in the loss of natural habitat, increases in traffic, more noise and light pollution and impacts on wildlife as more water is taken from the aquifer or from chalk streams to serve developments. These negative impacts can result from major developments and also from the cumulative effect of many small housing schemes across the area.
National planning policy states very clearly that planning applications for major development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be refused, except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. They should be treated with the same care as National Parks, because in national planning policy both AONBs and National Parks have the same highest status of protection of their landscape and scenic beauty.
Testing the appropriateness of development in the Chilterns is crucial as it is already one of the most developed of the UK’s protected landscapes with a lot of significant infrastructure in and through the AONB. As the population of southern England grows the social value of the Chilterns as a green, tranquil landscape offering opportunities for recreation, relaxation and ‘de-stressing’ becomes ever more important. More development will damage these vital benefits provided by the AONB.
Despite the value of the Chilterns countryside for society, and their legal duties towards the AONB, local authorities are increasingly looking at the AONB to find sites for new housing. For example, the South Oxfordshire Local Plan consultation document fails to treat larger villages in the AONB differently from those outside it, expecting all to take a share of new housing based on their size. The Chiltern and South Bucks Local Plan consultation includes significant site options in the AONB, as does the draft Wycombe Local Plan. The Board is concerned that the Wycombe Local Plan has not adequately assessed whether its housing proposals in the Chilterns represent major development or not. If they do they should only remain in the Plan if it can be shown that the circumstances are exceptional and it is in the public interest to build them. In the Board’s opinion building houses on a number of the sites proposed in the Plan would be harmful to the AONB and cannot be justified because there are options elsewhere in the housing market area which are outside the AONB. The sites proposed for housing include Oak Tree Road in Marlow, Penn Road in Hazlemere, Glynswood in High Wycombe and sites in Lane End.
“We must, in considering the total quantity and appropriateness of development, take into account the long view – what will the AONB look like in 100 or 200 years from now, will future generations be able to enjoy it as much as current do and will the AONB still be providing the benefits to society and the economy which it does now, like clean water and millions of recreational visits,” says Lucy Murfett, Planning Officer at the Board.
The Board recognises that the AONB should make some contribution to the local need for housing and believes this could be achieved through small incremental growth in villages, brownfield sites and rural barn conversions. This would be akin to the historic way villages have evolved over time, with small individual well-designed additions rather than ‘bolted-on’ greenfield housing estates. The Board will continue to help local planning authorities in their difficult balancing act in applying the appropriate weight to conservation and enhancement of the AONB.