Update 3 May 2015
There is good news from the area of outstanding natural beauty. Currently, the AONB is managed from within Shropshire Council. Two weeks ago, the members of the AONB Partnership unanimously agreed to pursue independence. That approach has now been supported by Shropshire Council. A threat to make the AONB manager redundant has been withdrawn.
This is a good move. Both the Chilterns and Cotswolds AONBs are overseen by conservation trusts. These have proved to be strong, independent voices on behalf of the landscape and the people who live and work in it.
Main article 16 April 2016
It is our task to look after our fragile planet and landscapes for future generations but at times this task is not easy.
Take solar farms. They help us in our battle against climate change but can despoil precious landscapes. That’s why I am disappointed that a planning inspector approved a solar farm at Acton Scott in the heart of the Shropshire Hills area of outstanding natural beauty. It is better that these developments are on brownfield sites, like the solar farm being built at Bromfield.
There are greater threats to the AONB than incongruous developments. Shropshire Council is planning to abolish the post of AONB manager. It believes the nationally designated landscape, which covers a quarter of Shropshire, can be overseen by an officer who will also have other duties across the county.
This is the most significant threat to the AONB since it was designated in 1958. Without a dedicated manager, the AONB will struggle to secure funding. Conservation and enhancement of the landscape will be eroded. Planning matters will be sidelined. Shropshire Council itself will struggle to meet its statutory duties to protect and enhance the AONB.
There is every danger that under the council’s plans, the AONB will become little more than a line on a map.
There is an alternative future for managing the AONB. It could follow the examples of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns and be run by an autonomous conservation board. This model won’t guarantee funding but it will ensure that there is a strong, independent voice for the AONB. It will also free the AONB from the council’s excessive bureaucracy and eye-watering overheads.
Shropshire Council is withdrawing from its responsibilities across the county. Soon we will have to ask the question: what is the council for?
This article first appeared in the Ludlow Advertiser.