The legal framework for AONBs

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a statutory designation. The legal framework for AONB is provided by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000:

  • The Act confirms that the purpose of designating AONBs is the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the area.

  • It gives the Countryside Agency a duty to provide general advice on development matters in AONBs and a requirement that the Agency be consulted in connection with development plans, access agreements and access orders.

  • It gives local authorities a permissive power to take action to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the AONBs in their areas.

  • It requires that a management plan be produced for each AONB. The duty falls to local authorities, which must act jointly to produce the plan. (In the case of the South Devon AONB, the relevant local authorities are South Hams District Council, Devon County Council, Torbay Council and Plymouth City Council). Once adopted and published, the management plan must be revised at intervals not exceeding five years.

  • The Act states that the purpose of the management plan is to formulate the polices of local authorities for the management of the AONB and for the carrying out of their functions in relation to it.

  • The Act also sets out the provisions for establishing statutory conservation boards for those AONBs where there is support for this option.

  • The Act places a statutory duty on relevant authorities to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB when exercising or performing any functions affecting land in the AONB. ("relevant authorities" are any public bodies including local and statutory authorities, parish councils and statutory regulators).