AONBs are areas of countryside that have been designated for conservation due to their significant landscape value. Areas are designated in recognition of their national importance and are exceptional landscapes whose distinctive character and natural beauty are precious enough to be safeguarded in the national interest. AONBs are protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. There are 34 AONBs in England and Natural England has the discretion to consider whether to assess and designate an area as AONB. AONBs can include villages and small towns.
The AONB designation aims to meet the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and have regard for the interests of those who live and work there. To achieve these aims, AONBs rely on planning controls and practical countryside management. Unlike National Parks, planning matters for AONBs remain the responsibility of local planning authorities, although Natural England must be consulted on development proposals where they might have a significant impact on the protected area.
Development in AONBs would have to be in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the local planning policy documents of the particular local authority in which they lie. Like National Parks, AONBs are regarded as a “Designated Rural Area” in the NPPF and given additional protection from development. Paragraph 172 in the NPPF states that great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing the landscape and scenic beauty, and that they have the highest status of protection in relation to these issues.
Each AONB must have a management plan as well, which can be used to shape local or neighbourhood plans and make decisions on development proposals. AONB management plans can be made by the Local Authority or they can delegate this function to an AONB partnership, who are also allowed to manage the AONB. However, the responsibilities of planning decision-taking and planning policies for the AONB remain that of the Local Councils. In AONBs there are also tighter restrictions on permitted development rights under the General Permitted Development Order.
Development in AONBs would have to be in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the local planning policy documents of the particular local authority in which they lie.