The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today launches a report with detailed new maps showing that 55 per cent of England’s countryside could be at increased risk from development as a consequence of the Government’s reforms of the planning system. This equates to an area almost three-and-a-half times the size of Wales.
Excluding areas with nationally recognised designations, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), as well as Green Belt, CPRE found that the majority of England’s countryside could be at increased risk of development and urban sprawl.
For decades English planning policy has recognised the intrinsic value of the wider countryside, including undesignated areas. The draft National Planning Policy Framework, which is due to be finalised shortly, omits such a policy. At most risk is countryside in the East Midlands with 73 per cent of its area undesignated, followed by the East of England with 66 per cent undesignated.
The Prime Minister recently described west Oxfordshire as “one of the most beautiful parts of our country, set in some of England’s finest countryside” and stated that he would “no more put that at risk than I would put at risk my own family”. This strength of feeling is welcomed by CPRE, but 55 per cent of the Prime Minister’s constituency will be at greater risk unless his Government amends the draft NPPF to include recognition of the importance of the wider, undesignated countryside.
CPRE’s research shows that, out of the top 150 constituencies with the most ordinary countryside at risk, five are held by Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire constituency of Witney. Conservative MPs hold 118 of the 150 most at risk constituencies, 14 are held by Liberal Democrats and 17 by Labour. One of the constituencies is Buckingham which is held by the Speaker John Bercow.
Fiona Howie, Head of Planning at CPRE, says: “We are pleased that the Government’s planning reforms will retain protections for specially designated countryside. But Ministers have provided no reassurance that the final NPPF will recognise the value of the wider, undesignated countryside that makes up more than half of England’s rural landscape.
“We are not seeking a national policy that would prevent all development. But if we are to avoid damaging the character of rural areas by making it easier for inappropriate, speculative building to take place – a bungalow here, a distribution shed there – decision makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside when considering development proposals. The imminent changes to the planning system should ensure that it is not only the specially designated areas that are valued.”
CPRE’s mapping of these areas show that many of England’s most attractive landscapes are not covered by nationally recognised designations or up to date local plans. And some areas of countryside are dependent on local plan protection which, in the absence of a supportive national policy, might not stand up to pressure from inappropriate development proposals. England’s undesignated countryside includes:
- the large majority of Cornwall, North and East Devon;
- the Pennine slopes east of Macclesfield;
- North-west Dorset and South Somerset;
- the Welcombe hills north of Stratford-upon-Avon;
- the riverbank west of Knaresborough;
- the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire and North Hampshire;
- the Sussex Lower Weald;
- the Gog Magog Hills south of Cambridge;
- most of Romney Marsh;
- the Garden of England, South of Maidstone and North of the North Downs;
- ‘Midsomer’ England in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire; and,
- the village of Hanbury in Worcestershire – the basis for the fictional BBC village of Ambridge from the Archers.
Fiona Howie concluded: “If Ministers value the English countryside as a whole this should be reflected in the new national planning policies. It would be risky to rely solely on any local protection for the wider countryside, the status of which is extremely uncertain. Without national support, any protection local plans give to the wider countryside is likely to be challenged by developers. It’s important the Government gets this policy right first time round to avoid unnecessary damage to the countryside as the planning reforms are implemented on the ground.”