Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have the same level of protection in planning terms as National Parks.
The Kent Downs AONB Unit acts in an advisory role to the local planning authorities on decisions that may impact on the AONB. The Unit is not a local planning authority and the responsibility for preparing development plans and determining planning applications lies with the local authorities. Priority is given to providing advice on planning policy formulation but the Unit also advises local planning authorities on planning applications, where these fall within the remit of an agreed Planning Protocol. In accordance with the Protocol, the Unit generally only comments on planning applications which would have a significant effect on the AONB or when advice is requested by a local planning authority. The Unit also advises Parish Councils on the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans.
The Kent Downs AONB Unit produces a number of publications which provide guidance on conserving and enhancing the landscape. These can be found here.
The Unit only provides pre-application advice on development proposals that have the potential to impact on the AONB.
Local authorities, along with other public bodies and statutory undertakers, have a legal duty under Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to have regard to the purposes of the AONB in carrying out their planning and other functions.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies and local authorities must have regard to this in reaching planning decisions. The NPPF confirms that AONBs are equivalent to National Parks in terms of their landscape quality, scenic beauty and planning status.
The Kent Downs AONB Management Plan is also a material consideration in planning decisions. The Management Plan sets out the special characteristics and qualities of the Kent Downs AONB and provides policies on the management of the AONB. It is adopted by all the local authorities in the Kent Downs AONB.