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Sacrificing the Chilterns AONB: 771 houses approved on greenfield land

21st April 2021

Our county is blessed with the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

AONBs are among the country’s most precious landscapes. You might expect this to mean they are safe from being built on. But even though these areas have the strongest protections available in planning law, they are being sacrificed at an alarming rate for housing development. Our new report Beauty still betrayed: state of our AONBs 2021 lays bare how AONBs are seeing unprecedented pressure from unaffordable, unjustifiable and land-hungry development. The findings are stark – the amount of land planned to be lost to housing in AONBs has more than doubled since 2017.  This includes an unprecedented 771 new houses approved on greenfield land within the Chilterns AONB.

Just as concerning is the increase in pressure in ‘the setting’ of AONBs, which means homes within 500 metres from the boundary of one of these beautiful landscapes. The number of homes planned for the setting is up 135%. Yes, more affordable homes in rural areas are desperately needed, including in the communities within our protected landscapes. But only 16% of the new homes being granted planning permission can be considered ‘affordable’.

How is it possible that the areas with some of the most stringent protections are being lost to reckless development that does nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis? Concerningly, the government’s upheaval of the planning system could increase this pressure. The changes look set to remove local people from scrutinising individual developments which would make it easier for developers to continue building wastefully in some of our most adored and beautiful countryside.

Our report urges the government to fulfil its own promise of leaving the environment in a better state. The upcoming Planning Bill must not only protect AONBs but ensure the right number of affordable homes are built for the local communities that call the countryside home.

Planning laws that increase development pressure, empower developers and disempower local communities will be seen as a betrayal by future generations. In 30 years’ time, imagine explaining to younger people that the countryside was irredeemably tarnished on our watch. Our world-famous landscapes, beautiful countryside and green space next door have never been more important and at the same time have never been under greater threat.

Once land in AONBs is built over, it’s gone for good. And be in no doubt, future generations will want answers.

Read Beauty still betrayed: state of our AONBs 2021 for the full details.

April 2021

a dark sky at night with hundreds of stars visible in the milky way overhead