The Avon Valley

The role of the AONB Partnership in Planning and Development

The South Devon AONB Partnership and its Staff Unit are committed to the conservation and enhancement of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Partnership is the governance body for the AONB and brings together organisations and interests which work to provide a strategic lead on the conservation and enhancement of the area.

AONB management is coordinated by the Partnership in accordance with the priorities, policies and objectives as set out in the statutory AONB Management Plan. Together with planning, a wide range of matters are covered in the AONB Management Plan  (2014-19) dictated by legislation, local and national policy requirements including those set by Defra.

Matters for clarification

Partnership Committee meetings

To ensure effective operation and governance, the AONB Partnership like many organisations adheres to a Constitution that includes terms of reference, membership, structure and operation of its committee. Its quarterly meetings are open to members of the public and representatives of interested organisations to attend as observers. Questions or information for consideration by the Partnership Committee meeting may be submitted via the AONB Manager at least three weeks in advance of a meeting. The Partnership will provide a reply to any such questions through the AONB Manager within two weeks of the Partnership Committee meeting. The Partnership Committee may, at the discretion of the Chairman, invite any person or representative of an organisation to address and take part in a meeting where his or her knowledge or experience would contribute to a relevant matter on the agenda. 

Partnership meeting 2nd December 2016

At its 2nd December 2016 meeting under exceptional circumstances, the AONB Partnership Committee was dominated by the discussion of a single item ‘The AONB Partnership’s role in planning matters’. Following this discussion, a clear decision was reached not to set up a technical group to handle planning matters. Responses to planning matters continue to be delegated to the AONB Staff Unit with the input of Partnership members as required. This matter displaced all other agenda items, as the Chairman felt discussion regarding the proposal should be extensive. Unfortunately, this meant that some other invited speakers could not present their scheduled items.

It was clear from this meeting that the Partnership needs to improve and expand the opportunities for communication regarding planning matters. Ways of taking this forward are summarised at the end of this Statement.

Where does planning responsibility lie?

The primary role for planning within the AONB rests with the Local Planning Authority, with Natural England being the statutory consultee for planning matters affecting AONBs.

The South Devon AONB Partnership has a non-statutory advisory role in the planning process. This means that local planning authorities are not legally obligated to consult the AONB Unit, or the AONB Partnership on planning applications. However, the unit submits between 50 and 100 responses per year.

These responses are submitted to South Hams, Torbay, Plymouth and Devon County Councils as appropriate, they  can be viewed on the relevant authority websites. In assessing cases, a Local Planning Authority is legally entitled to come to its own judgement of harm to the AONB and is entitled to apply its own planning judgement which involves weighing different material considerations.

The Partnership’s involvement in planning is delegated to the AONB Unit which provides a professional technical analysis of the issues and effects on natural beauty which may result from a planning proposal. It does so based on AONB special qualities and distinctive characteristics and the adopted policies and objectives in the statutory South Devon AONB Management Plan.

Looking ahead

The Partnership recognises the increasing demand for growth and development throughout the UK and is determined to work within its powers and remit and through the National Association for AONBs to conserve and enhance this protected landscape. Consequently, the AONB has undertaken the following steps:

South Devon AONB Planning Guidance Document

South Devon AONB Planning Guidance sets out the South Devon AONB Partnership’s views on how the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) should be properly understood, interpreted and applied in relation to the South Devon AONB to achieve sustainable development through planning. The Guidance forms part of the AONB Management Plan and will be published in Spring 2017 following adoption by the AONB Partnership. A text version is available on the website.

Green Balance report commissioned by The National Trust

The Green Balance report was summarised in their own document “AONBs and development” with the nine key tests endorsed by the National Association for AONBs. None of the case studies examined applications in the South Devon AONB.

The South Devon AONB hosted a presentation of this report by the National Trust for Partnership Members and the public. The AONB Partnership welcomes the report and endorses its recommendations to government. The South Devon AONB Planning Guidance incorporates and responds to the report, its summary and the tests.


As part of an ongoing programme of training and advice sessions using the AONB Planning Guidance, with both planning professionals , neighbourhood planning groups and development management committee members, the AONB Partnership seeks to achieve consistently good quality decision-taking.

Opportunities to become more involved

The AONB Partnership seeks to continuously improve its work and welcomes constructive, and collaborative input from amenity groups and the public.

In becoming involved in the planning process in South Devon AONB we would signpost interested organisations and individuals to:

  • Make extensive use of the AONB Planning Guidance.
  • Use the full range of your elected members and the eight AONB Community Representatives to feed into AONB Partnership matters.
  • Provide your own responses to planning applications, local plans and neighbourhood plans direct to the Local Planning Authorities on material planning matters.
  • Alert the Unit as early as possible to development proposals in your part of the AONB that may require our attention.
  • Work collaboratively and positively with the team on projects and initiatives to conserve and enhance the AONB
  • Consider standing in July 2018 as one of the eight AONB Partnership Committee community representatives appointed once every three years by election at the AONB Community Forum.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any aspect of our activites in the planning arena.

Visit for more information about the AONB Partnership Committee, its Staff Unit and to view the documents referred to in this statement.