Duty of Regard
National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) have been confirmed by the Government as having the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. Each of these designated areas has specific statutory purposes which help ensure their continued protection. The statutory purpose of AONBs is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of their area.
Under Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 all relevant authorities with land in an area of outstanding natural beauty have a statutory duty that ‘in exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land’ in these areas, ‘shall have regard’ to their purposes.
It recognises that a wide range of bodies have a direct influence over the future of these protected landscapes in terms of policy, programme and project implementation, casework decisions, land ownership and management. It also acknowledges that the fulfilment of protected area purposes rests not only with those bodies directly responsible for their management but also relies on effective collaborative working. As such, the duties are particularly important to the delivery if the purposes of protected areas and to the overall achievement of sustainable development in rural areas.
It is important to note that the duties apply to any decisions or activities an authority may take affecting land in these areas; not just to those that relate to narrowly defined environmental or countryside issues.
Additionally it may sometimes be the case that the activities of certain authorities operating outside the boundaries of these areas may have an impact within them. In such cases, relevant authorities will also be expected to have regard to the purposes of National Parks.
It is important for all to be aware that the duties do not override particular obligations or considerations which have to be taken into account by relevant authorities in carrying out any function. However, they are intended to ensure that the purposes for which these areas have been designated are recognised as an essential consideration in reaching decisions and undertaking activities that impact on those areas.
Relevant authorities are expected to be able to demonstrate that they have fulfilled these duties.