The Cotswolds Conservation Board recently successfully demonstrated the role it plays in protecting and enhancing the special qualities of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). A proposed major housing development in the AONB has been dismissed at appeal. The proposed development, by CALA Homes, would have involved the construction of 68 dwellings in the village of Stonesfield, West Oxfordshire. However, the planning inspector who led the public inquiry into the appeal concluded that the potential benefits of the scheme do not outweigh the highest status of protection that is given to AONBs.
The Cotswolds Conservation Board played a key role in the public inquiry, working in partnership with Stonesfield Parish Council and Sustainable Stonesfield to oppose the development. There were a number of reasons that the Board took on this role. In particular, it considered that the appeal would be an important test of the West Oxfordshire Local Plan.
The Local Plan requires such housing development proposals in the Cotswolds AONB to demonstrate convincing evidence of needs specific to a particular settlement. The planning inspector concluded that the CALA Homes proposal did not meet these stringent requirements. As such, the proposal did not amount to the exceptional circumstances that would be required for planning permission to be granted.
The Board was also concerned about the adverse impact of the proposed development on the Cotswolds AONB. The planning inspector highlighted similar concerns and found that the development would cause significant harm to the character and appearance of the AONB.
The Board recognises the need to provide affordable housing in the Cotswolds AONB. However, as demonstrated by this appeal decision, housing development proposals in the AONB must provide convincing evidence of need arising within the AONB, down to the level of the individual settlement. Even where there is exceptional need, great weight must still be given to conserving and enhancing the landscape and scenic beauty of the AONB.