Gloucestershire Campaign to Protect Rural England

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Campaign history

Friday, 19 August 2011 14:26

Hobhouse Map 1947 Hobhouse Map 1947

CPRE is campaigning for designation of the Forest of Dean as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).  This note summarises the long history of campaigning for national recognition.

The area was recommended for national protection in the reports to Government after the second world war which led to the system of National Parks and AONBs.  232 square miles of the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley were identified as meriting protection.

1971.  The Wye Valley was designated an AONB but the Forest of Dean was left out on the grounds that the Forest of Dean formed a distinct landscape separate from the Wye Valley and that designation was not necessary as the Forestry Commission had adequate powers for meeting amenity and recreation needs under the 1968 Countryside Act - but this completely disregarded the landscape merits of the non-afforested areas and the need to consider the area as a whole.

1972 – 1995.  Many continued to argue that the Forest of Dean area should be similarly designated an AONB to recognise its national landscape significance and provide safeguards against inappropriate development.  

1996.  Matters came to a head when the draft Minerals Plan for Gloucestershire included parts of the Forest as potential quarrying areas and concerns were expressed about the possible return of opencast mining.   

1997.  During the general election campaign, the Labour Party stated it would “offer the Forest of Dean a new ‘custom-built’ status appropriate to its unique history and character, which matches up to the threats it faces while retaining the flexibility necessary to ensure a secure future for the local communities”

1998.  The new Labour Government asked the Countryside Commission to make recommendations.  

1999.  A report for the Countryside Commission Forest of Dean - Review of Special Status confirmed that the Forest of Dean District was unique and fully met the criteria for AONB designation.  It recommended “an enhanced AONB”, the enhancement to be by a programme to meet the social and economic needs of the area.  Forest of Dean District Council gave their full support to the recommendation.  By 1999 the Countryside Agency had replaced the Countryside Commission.  In response to the threat of major new quarrying, the Agency advised Gloucestershire County Council to regard the Forest of Dean as if it were an AONB for the purpose of the county’s Minerals Local Plan Inquiry.

2000.  A decision on designation was deferred in favour of a time limited Integrated Rural Development programme of small scale projects.  That year the status of AONBs was enhanced by provisions in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.  Designation of the Forest of Dean area should now be able to provide all that the ‘custom built’ status promised by the Labour Party in 1997 could have achieved.  

2003.    A petition of 7000 signatures in support of a Forest of Dean AONB was handed to the Chairman of the Countryside Agency.

2005.  The Minister wrote to the Agency saying “The question of AONB designation does not need to be linked to the outcome of the Integrated Rural Development programme so I feel that the possible designation of the Forest should now be considered without delay.”  

2007.   Forest of Dean District Council set up a Task Group of Councillors to look again at the advantages and disadvantages of AONB designation for its area.  The Group consulted widely and reported favourably on designation.

2008.    For the second time, Forest of Dean District Council gave their full support to AONB designation.

2012.    Responsibility for designation now rests with Natural England.  Natural England has been reviewing its strategy on designations and has developed strict criteria for considering boundary changes to National Parks and AONBs and any new designations.  Its designation strategy was published in July.  The Forest of Dean is on a long list of proposals for review.

2014.    Natural England is evaluating the proposals on the long list.  A decision on which proposals will be taken forward is anticipated at the end of the year.

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