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‘Crown jewels’ of countryside under threat, CPRE analysis of AONBs reveals

22 April 2021

  • Since 2012, the amount of greenfield land in England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that will be built on has more than doubled (129% increase).
  • Worse still, this development is ‘land hungry’ and doing little to solve the affordable housing crisis.
  • CPRE, the countryside charity is calling on the government to halt this reckless development and prevent high levels of housing pressure in AONBs through the upcoming Planning Bill.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are some of our most precious landscapes, which many people would expect to mean that they are safe from being built on. But even though these areas have the strongest protections available in planning law, they are falling foul to an increasing amount of rapid and reckless housing development, according to new analysis from CPRE, the countryside charity.

Threats to England’s 34 AONBs from development is increasing at an alarming rate – Beauty still betrayed: The state of our AONBs 2021 report reveals a 129% increase in the amount of greenfield land planned to be built over. The research, conducted by Glennigan Consultancy on behalf of CPRE, has found that high housing pressure is also being applied to land around AONBs, with the number of homes built in the setting (within 500 meters of the boundary) increasing by 135% since 2012.

It is clear this kind of sprawling development is bad for people, nature and the countryside. The research found that the developments on AONBs use up twice as much land compared to the national average for developments. Yet only 16% of the homes built in AONBs are considered affordable even by the government’s own definition. Clear evidence shows that the real affordability of housing in many rural areas is much worse than the government estimates. Tragically, the kind of housing currently being provided will do little to tackle the affordable housing crisis, while concreting over precious countryside and setting back action to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.

Commenting on the findings, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘The fact that some of our most highly-prized areas of countryside are being lost to build more executive homes says a great deal about our planning system. Continuing with this ‘build and be damned’ approach just serves to line the pockets of greedy developers whilst undermining climate action, stalling nature’s recovery and gobbling up our most precious green space that’s vital for our health and wellbeing, all while doing next to nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis.

‘Rural communities are crying out for well-designed, quality and genuinely affordable homes in the right places. We know this kind of development is possible. To start building the right nature-friendly and low carbon homes in the right places, we must see a swift change of tack from the government to put nature and countryside communities at the heart of any future Planning Bill. Continuing to give developers more power in the planning system will only make this bad situation worse.’

It is also interesting to note the north/south divide when it comes to threats to our AONBs, with particular pressure on AONB land in the south west and south east of England. In the following four areas alone, more than half (52%) of all planning permissions for development on greenfield land in AONBs have been granted:

  • The High Weald AONB has seen 932 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017
  • The Dorset AONB has seen 771 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017
  • The Chilterns AONB has seen 771 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017
  • The Cotswolds AONB has seen 684 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017

Commenting on the findings of the report, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds, said:

‘I am proud to represent the Cotswolds which covers about 80% of the AONB. The CPRE report highlighting the enormous development in AONBs nationally is mirroring what is happening in the Cotswolds. I totally support their campaign but whilst some development is essential for economic growth it must be done in a proportionate and well-planned way.

‘It is vital that areas like the Cotswolds and other AONBs, which have all been given that designation because they are unique and special areas, are carefully conserved by planning departments and other statutory consultees. Otherwise, this generation will fail to pass on this very special national heritage for future generations.’

CPRE, the countryside charity, is calling on the government to use the upcoming Planning Bill to strengthen planning protections for precious green space and prevent high levels of development in AONBs and further still, only allow development if it meets the needs of local people, nature and the countryside.

Further information

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson, please contact:

Jonathan Jones, CPRE Media Relations Lead, 020 7981 2819 / 078 3529 1907.

About the State of AONBs 2021 report

This report from CPRE, the countryside charity, examines the extent of housing development taking place in England’s AONBs between 2017 and 2020. The research, conducted by Glenigan on behalf of CPRE has found that since 2017/2018, an average of 1,670 housing units have been approved on an average of 119 hectares of greenfield land within AONBs per year. The report also looks into how AONB housing developments have provided for local communities in terms of affordable housing provision, as well as highlighting which regions are most under threat.

The full report is available here:

Beauty still betrayed: The state of our AONBs 2021