For planners, the next big piece of legislation to impact on the development of land in the countryside and wide open spaces is the Environment Bill, currently at the Reporting stage in the House of Commons – running slightly later than anticipated. It will replace much of the EU environmental legislation protecting the countryside for its intrinsic value and biodiversity, but there is much more secondary legislation also coming into play which will provide the detail for the protection of habitats and species in the UK.
Whilst this isn’t particular to wide open spaces, it has the most effect on the areas that are to be known as the “National Site Network”, which includes existing Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and also new SACs and SPAs to be designated under the EU Exit Regulations. The maintenance of this level of protection is still required to enable the UK to meet its international legal obligations and planning authorities have a duty to protect, preserve or conserve designated sites.
And all of those usual planning designations acronyms will also still be protected in national and local policy (e.g. AONB, SSSI, LNRs, NNRs and NPs). So how is this all relevant to rights of way and the increase in use by members of the public over private (or public) land? Where a site is protected, which is frequently the case when you’re talking about beauty spots and coastal walks with stunning views, for instance, the intensity of users of that site and the impact the increased use will have on the designated area is a factor that must be taken into account when determining applications for nearby development, and also in the assessment of supporting applications to divert or stop up rights of way to facilitate that development.
And whilst the word ‘development’ usually conjures up images of new housing estates or out of town retail centres, it can also include infrastructure, for example new car parks (for all those ‘new’ pleasure seekers), tourist information centres, kiosks, and a variety of other much smaller proposals.