The Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a nationally protected landscape. That means that when planning decisions are made the special qualities of the AONB must be taken into consideration.
Development is inevitable and necessary to the AONB. It sustains those who live here, maintains economic viability and supports those who manage the land. We aim to work together with developers and decision makers to make sure that development happens in a way which doesn’t impact on the AONB’s natural beauty. That involves considering not only the overall look of the landscape but also things such as cultural heritage, wildlife and tranquillity.
To maintain the area’s special qualities a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) exists to help manage change effectively and sympathetically. It sets out broad guidelines for development in both AONBs and their setting. At the heart of this framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development but it also recognises the need to protect these unique landscapes.
In addition to the NPPF each local planning authority has a Local Plan (Forest Of Dean Local Plan, South Worcestershire Development Plan, Herefordshire Plan) which provides more detailed guidance. It is the local authority planning officers from these planning authorities who publicise applications and who will determine most planning applications, often with a planning committee. Local Planning Authorities are expected to be able to clearly demonstrate that they have considered the purposes of AONB designation in their decision making.
At the Parish level many communities have a Neighbourhood Plan. This plan ‘fits’ with the plans above but helps to provide more detailed local guidelines.
Our AONB management plan must also be considered when deciding planning applications in the AONB, alongside our planning guidance. It identifies aspects of the AONB which are critical in contributing to its natural beauty and it sets out objectives for its management. The plan and guidance documents have been endorsed by all the planning authorities within the AONB and are a ‘material consideration’ in planning applications.
The role of the AONB in planning
Our role is to provide the local planning authorities (LPAs) with professional, targeted advice on planning within Malvern Hills AONB. We are a small team and advice on development proposals is just one of our many functions.
Each year hundreds of planning applications are submitted to the LPAs concerning the AONB area and Parishes in its setting. We are not ‘statutory consultees’ so we are not consulted as a matter of course on every application, but we do try to comment on applications we feel are of concern. It is up to the local planning authority to decide whether to seek or to take our advice and we don’t determine any planning applications.
We recognise that it can be a tricky balance to allow new development which meets the needs of our local communities whilst also conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Malvern Hills but we try to work together with decision makers and developers to make sure that change is sympathetic and doesn’t detract from the natural beauty of the area.