A New Duty to ‘Seek to Further’

Pond with weeping willow and country house on a blue sky day

25th March 2024

On 26th December 2023, a new statutory duty came into force in all National Landscapes (formerly known as AONBs). The new duty requires all relevant authorities to ‘seek to further’ the purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty of any landscape with AONB designation, such as the Kent Downs. This new legislation applies to all public and statutory bodies, and it applies to all their decisions, not just those related to planning and the environment.

This welcome news creates greater safeguards for the Kent Downs National Landscape and is a positive step towards achieving our sole purpose: ‘To conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area.’

The new duty features in Section 245 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, and replaces the previous duty:

Previous Duty – ‘to have regard’

Seen as a passive duty, process rather than outcome focussed, only requiring impacts to be taken into account.

New Duty – ‘to seek to further’

Seen as an active duty, and outcome focussed. Requires all reasonable steps to be taken to avoid harm and to take measures to further the conservation and enhancement of the National Landscape.

This change means that instead of just thinking about the impact their actions might have on these special places, public bodies now have to actively work to make them better.

When reviewing planning applications, the local planning authority must be able to show how they have actively tried to ‘seek to further the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty’, in considering the planning implications and its impacts on the AONB.  Similarly, those submitting planning applications need to be aware of the higher bar that has been set and how their proposal will ‘seek to further’.

Interim advice provided by Natural England on complying with the new duty is that seeking to further conservation and enhancement goes beyond mitigation and like for like measures, and replacement. The proposed measures to further should explore what is possible in addition to avoiding and mitigating the effects of the development and should align with and help to deliver the aims and objectives of the protected landscape’s management plan.  Natural England has advised that the new duty underlines the importance of avoiding harm to the statutory purposes of protected landscapes.

There is still work to be done, but we hope this new duty will mark a step-change and provide an opportunity for bringing together organisations to work positively to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Kent Downs National Landscape.

More information

Advice to relevant authoritiesAdvice to local planning authorities

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