The following Questions & Answers provide background information on the role of Natural England in the Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project. Click on this section heading to expand/collapse the text as necessary.
It is Natural England’s statutory responsibility to designate National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).
In July 2021 Natural England announced a new programme for landscape, working with stakeholders, communities and government. This includes determining four proposals for either new AONBs, or extensions to existing AONBs. One of these is to consider a proposal for a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB. This project is now underway.
The purpose of this Frequently Asked Questions document is help inform about AONBs and the Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project in particular; the designation process and Natural England’s role; as well as some of the implications for any area that may be designated as an AONB.
Q. What is an AONB?
A. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is land protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000. Section 82(1) of the CRoW Act defines an AONB as “an area which appears to Natural England to be of such outstanding natural beauty that it is desirable that the protective provisions of Part IV of the Act should apply to it for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the area‘s natural beauty.” There are currently 34 AONBs in England.
There is no existing AONB in the Yorkshire Wolds. If as a result of this project a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB is designated, it would be the first new AONB to be designated since the designation of Nidderdale AONB in 1994.
Q. Who makes decisions with regard to new landscape designations?
A. Natural England has a discretionary power under S.82 of the CRoW Act, to designate Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Q. What is Natural England’s remit?
A. Natural England is the government’s adviser on the natural environment, with special responsibilities for creating National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and reviewing their boundaries. We also have a wide range of other responsibilities for the natural environment. More information about our work is at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england.
Q. Who makes the final decision?
A. It is Natural England’s responsibility to decide whether to designate an area as AONB. Any decision will be made by Natural England’s Board, having considered the evidence and the results of the statutory and public consultation. Any designation Order would not take effect however unless and until confirmed by the Secretary of State (Defra), after a legal Notice Period has been undertaken. The Secretary of State has the power call a Public Inquiry to assist in their decision making if so minded.
Q. How does Natural England decide which areas should be designated as AONBs?
A. In deciding whether to designate an AONB, or to vary an existing AONB boundary, Natural England must first consider whether the land has outstanding natural beauty and then whether designation is desirable for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the area’s natural beauty. This decision requires Natural England to address three broad questions:
Does the landscape have sufficient natural beauty to be considered outstanding?
Is it desirable for the purpose set out above, to designate this landscape as AONB?
Where should the boundary be drawn?
Q. How would a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB be managed?
A. The management of AONBs is usually the responsibility of a Joint Advisory Committee made up of the relevant local authorities. In addition a Partnership including a wide range of interested stakeholder organisations is also set up to help guide the management of the area. The Joint Advisory Committee, working with an AONB Partnership leads on the preparation, monitoring and review of the AONB Management Plan on behalf of its constituent local authorities. The AONB Partnership also plays a leading role in developing an image and sense of identity for the AONB and in developing and supporting initiatives that implement the AONB Management Plan policies. The work of an AONB Partnership is achieved through an AONB Management Unit taking forward a range of initiatives that promote the special character of the area, establish partnerships, secure funding, ensure implementation and monitor effectiveness. In recognition that AONBs are nationally important landscapes, 75% of the Unit’s core costs are funded by central government through DEFRA with 25% of core costs from the local authorities with land in the AONB, to reflect their statutory responsibilities towards the AONB.
Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project Background Information
Q. What areas are being considered for designation?
A. The Yorkshire Wolds stretches across North and East Yorkshire, from Hull in the South to Flamborough Head in the North-East and to the boundary of the Howardian Hills AONB in the North-West. It includes the area covered by National Character Area 27, the Yorkshire Wolds and immediately surrounding areas.
Q. Why is the area being considered for designation as AONB?
A. The local authorities covering the Yorkshire Wolds have long considered that the Yorkshire Wolds should be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Much of the area under consideration has been designated locally in recognition of its landscape value either as Important Landscape Areas (in East Riding) or Areas of High Landscape Value (in Ryedale). Representations requesting the designation of this area have been made to Natural England and predecessor bodies over a number of years.
Q. Why is this work starting now?
A. George Eustice, Secretary of State (Defra), made a Written Ministerial Statement on the 24th June 2021, which included reference to Natural England taking forward the government’s commitment to designate additional protected landscapes, with specific reference to considering the designation of the following four new areas.
A new Yorkshire Wolds AONB
A new Cheshire Sandstone Ridge AONB
An extension to the Surrey Hills AONB
An extension to the Chilterns AONB
This followed the publication of the government commissioned ‘Landscapes Review’, in September 2019 (the ‘Glover Review’).
Q. What are the next steps and expected timescales?
A. Natural England has appointed consultants experienced in this area of work who are assisting in evidence gathering with local people and stakeholders prior to undertaking the technical assessment of natural beauty and determining the desirability of designating a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB to include areas assessed as having outstanding natural beauty.
The following is a summary of the practical steps being followed (with indicative timescales for each):
Call for evidence on Natural Beauty of the Area of Search from Key Stakeholders. April 2022
Review of available evidence relevant to the assessment of natural beauty and technical assessment of natural beauty in the field. May 2022.
Awareness raising workshops and webinars for the public and key stakeholder organisations. June 2022
Call for review of draft Candidate Area via an online engagement platform and a digital app, as well as via workshops (see the Share and Review pages of this website for further information). June 2022
Preparation of recommended Candidate Area and supporting justification. July/August 2022
Assessment of desirability to designate. Autumn 2022
Assessment to define a proposed boundary. Winter 2022
NE approval and if yes, approval to undertake the statutory and public consultation: by end of June 2023
Preparation of documentation for and subsequent undertaking of the statutory consultation: by end of August 2023
Review responses to the statutory consultation prior to NE Board approval of the assessments of whether Natural England should designate a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB and if yes, a draft Order designating a new AONB and approval to proceed to a formal period of Notice: by end of Jan 2024
Formal period of Notice and analysis of responses: by end May 2024
Order made and submitted to the Secretary of State (Defra) designating a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB: by end of July 2024
Q. When is the assessment to designate a new AONB expected to be completed?
A. Assuming the above timetable is followed, and that the Natural England Board determines that a new AONB should be designated following the technical assessments and statutory consultation, Natural England would expect to submit a variation Order to the Secretary of State for a decision by the end of July 2024. It is not possible to say how long the Secretary of State’s decision will take following submission or whether a Public Inquiry will be called.
Q. How will local people be able to engage?
A. Natural England will work collaboratively with local partners to ensure there are good engagement opportunities throughout the process. This could include opportunities to contribute to evidence gathering as well as through informal consultation.
The Designation Process in more detail
Q. How does Natural England go about fulfilling this statutory responsibility?
A. Natural England has produced a guidance document which sets out how we evaluate natural beauty as well as the desirability of designation and the criteria we use to identify detailed boundaries.
Q. How is the assessment of Natural Beauty undertaken?
A. Once an area has been selected for consideration for designation, it will be considered in detail, using the guidance referred to above. This guidance explains how Natural England normally expects to apply the statutory designation criteria in practice when assessing landscapes for designation.
Natural beauty is not exhaustively defined in the legislation. It is also a very subjective characteristic of a landscape and ultimately involves a value judgment. In deciding whether an area has natural beauty, Natural England must therefore make a judgment as to whether people are likely to perceive a landscape as having sufficient natural beauty.
In order to make these judgments (some of which are subjective) in a transparent and consistent way, the Guidance sets out the criteria that Natural England uses. These include landscape and scenic quality, relative wildness, relative tranquillity and contributions made to natural beauty by natural and cultural heritage features and associations.
Q. How does Natural England decide whether it is desirable to designate land as an AONB?
A. It is an important principle in designation, that just because an area is assessed as meeting the natural beauty criterion, it does not mean that it will necessarily be designated. Natural England must also deem it to be desirable to designate it for the purpose of conserving and enhancing its natural beauty.
Factors that are considered with regard to the ‘desirability’ of designation (for any area which satisfies the AONB technical ‘natural Beauty’ criterion include:
Is there an area which satisfies AONB technical ‘natural Beauty’ criterion?
Is the area of such significance that the AONB purpose should apply to it?
What are the issues affecting the area’s special qualities and understanding and enjoyment and what effect would designation have on these issues?
Can AONB purposes be best pursued through the management mechanisms, powers and duties which come with National Park or AONB designation?
Are there other relevant factors which tend to suggest whether it is or is not desirable to designate the area?
The more closely that any issue raised relates to the statutory purpose (the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty), then the greater its relevance and importance.
Q. How does Natural England identify boundaries for areas that are assessed as being desirable to designate as AONB?
A. If Natural England decides that an area has sufficient natural beauty and that it is desirable to designate an area, the last step prior to statutory consultation is to identify a detailed boundary. Natural England uses well-established boundary making principles in defining a suitable boundary. It is important to note that landscape and scenic quality rarely change suddenly and where there is an area of transition in landscape or scenic quality, a boundary will be drawn towards the high quality end of the area of transition, to include areas of high quality land and exclude areas of lesser quality. In other words, the boundary should be drawn conservatively.
Q. Who are the statutory consultees?
A. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act requires Natural England to undertake a statutory Local Authority consultation of all county, unitary, district and borough councils affected by the proposals prior to reaching a final decision, but in practice Natural England will open this consultation to anyone with an interest in the project, including the public.
The Implications of Designation
Q. What will change as a result of designation as an AONB?
A. The provisions of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act will immediately apply i.e.:
S84 (4) specifically provides for a local authority whose area consists of or includes the whole or any part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to have the power to take all such action as appears to them expedient for the accomplishment of the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area.
S85(1) confers a General Duty to have regard to the purpose of AONB designation as follows: “In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in an area of outstanding natural beauty, a relevant authority shall have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area of outstanding natural beauty.”
S85(2) defines ‘relevant authorities’ for these purposes as encompassing any Minister of the Crown, any public body, any statutory undertaker and any person holding public office.
S89 (2) places a duty on relevant local authorities to prepare and publish a plan which formulates their policy for the management of the AONB and for the carrying out of their functions in relation to it with a further duty to review the plan at "intervals of not more than five years". An AONB Management Plan sets out the policy for the management of an AONB and includes an action plan for carrying out activity in support of the purpose of designation. The Management Plan plays an important role in supporting and co-ordinating the action of the organisations that make up the AONB Partnership, including setting the work programme of the AONB team.
Q. What are the wider implications if designation goes ahead?
A. Any areas that become a part of a Yorkshire Wolds AONB would have the benefit of the national status that designation brings and the statutory protection this provides. They will be fully reflected in future AONB Management Plans and benefit from the resources and skills of the AONB Management Unit.
There are no changes to access rights over and above those that already exist.
Q. How will AONB designation affect planning?
A. All planning decisions will continue to be made by the existing local planning authorities, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework which provides the highest level of planning protection for AONBs, together with any specific local development plan policies.
In an AONB, great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty. The scale and extent of development would be likely to be limited and planning permission refused for major development unless in exceptional circumstances where it is in the public interest. Some Permitted Development Rights are however withdrawn in AONBs, requiring affected proposals to be subject to the full planning application process.
Q. How will designation affect landowners and other land managers?
A. Ownership of land remains unchanged within an AONB, there are no changes to public access rights and there is no restriction on how land can be farmed. Landowners and manager may be able to benefit from grant schemes targeted at designated landscapes such as Defra’s current Farming in Protected Landscapes Scheme.
Q. How will designation affect nature conservation?
A. The natural beauty of an AONB encompasses both its natural and cultural heritage features. Future management of the area will subsequently seek to ensure that important wildlife and habitats that are intrinsic to its natural beauty, are conserved and enhanced. The integrated management approach taken by an AONB Partnership will also assist with the management of any potential conflicts which may arise between wildlife and recreation.
Questions Raised During the Stakeholder Engagement Stage
The following section will contain answers to those questions raised during the stakeholder engagement stage. Click on this section heading to expand/collapse the text as necessary.