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Managing natural beauty

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), along with National Parks, make up our finest landscapes. Together they are a family of designated areas in England and Wales, which came into existence through the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. AONBs are recognised as being equal to National Parks in landscape quality, although arrangements for their management and provision for outdoor recreation are different. There are currently 46 AONBs in the UK.

The Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in 1968 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act (1949).

The statutory purpose of designation of AONBs under this Act is the Conservation and enhancement of natural beauty of the area. This differs from national parks, where recreation is also a statutory purpose. However, the natural beauty of both national parks and AONBs has equal status and protection.

While natural beauty is primarily understood as scenic or landscape beauty, it incorporates the breadth of all those things that make the area special and in many cases unique landscape character and its variety, biodiversity, historic and cultural heritage.

Secondary objectives of designation for AONBs, set up by the former Countryside Agency, are:

  • To facilitate and enhance public enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of the area.
  • To promote sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the areas natural beauty.

Many organisations, bodies and individuals play a role in the management of the area, through their exercise of statutory duties and powers, land ownership and management. The Norfolk Coast Partnership was set up in 1991 to facilitate and coordinate positive management of the area to conserve and enhance its natural beauty. It consists of organisations and interests with a role in managing the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Statutory duties
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000), often know as the CROW Act, gave a legal duty of regard to many public bodies and officers to have regard to the purpose of designation of an AONB when undertaking any action that might affect its natural beauty.

In practice, this means that such bodies should be able to demonstrate by a recorded process how the conservation and enhancement of the areas natural beauty has been considered for any decision that may affect it.

The CROW Act also gave a duty to local authorities (local councils) whose area included an AONB, or part of one, to produce an AONB management plan setting out their policies for the AONB and to review this plan at least every five years. If more than one local authority is involved, they are required to act jointly to produce and review the management plan.

AONBs have strong protection under the planning system - both within the National Planning Policy Framework and local plans.