Part IV of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW Act) provides the main legislative framework for AONBs.
The main relevant sections are:
- Section 82 – specifies that the primary purpose of designation of an AONB is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.
- Section 84 – sets out the powers that Local Authorities have to take action to achieve conservation and enhancement.
- Section 85 – states that in exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in and AONB, authorities “shall have regard” to their purposes. This is known as the Duty of Regard*.
- Section 89 – Requires a Management Plan to be produced for each AONB; the first Kent Downs AONB Management Plan was published in April 2004. The current Management Plan is a second revision of this, published in 2014. This has been formally adopted by all the local authorities of the Kent Downs and is a material consideration in all planning decisions. Further information about the Management Plan can be found here.
*The Duty of Regard
Section 85 of the CRoW Act places an explicit duty on relevant authorities to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of an AONB when exercising or performing any function in relation to or so as to affect an AONB.
Relevant authorities are defined in the Act as Government Ministers, public bodies, statutory undertakers and any persons holding public office. Public bodies include local authorities, Parish and Town Councils. Statutory Undertakers include rail and utilities companies.
The S85 Duty of Regard applies to all functions, not just those relating to planning and is applicable whether a function is statutory or permissive. It is applicable to land outside as well as within an AONB, where an activity may have an impact on an AONB. The requirement is to ‘conserve and enhance’ and both aspects are required to be addressed.
In relation to planning, the Duty of Regard applies in respect of both plan making and decision taking. This includes deciding what weight to apply to different planning matters, considering whether planning conditions are necessary and also when considering planning enforcement action. It is good practice for a local planning authority to consider the Duty of Regard at several points in the decision making process and to provide written evidence that regard has been had.