The CLA has responded to Bob Seely MP’s call for greater landscape designation on the Isle of Wight, arguing it needs to be balanced against the economic and social needs of the Island.
Mr Seely recently called on the Government to give the Isle of Wight’s landscape greater protection against housing and development, and he has written to the Environment Secretary asking for action to support his aims.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents farmers, landowners and rural businesses across the Island, believes designation should be a catalyst for innovation rather than a barrier for development.
The Prime Minister recently set out his vision to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030, an additional 4% on current designations. Here, the Isle of Wight AONB already covers around 50% of the Island, and last year the whole island was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
CLA South East Regional Director Michael Valenzia said: “Designation should be undertaken for the right reasons, to protect our finest landscapes in line with the relevant legislation.
“It should not be used as a tool to shield an area from development, and there is a lack of evidence to suggest that communities and employment opportunities are enhanced by it. In fact, with little in the way of housing allocations and a bureaucratic restriction on business growth, often these areas can stagnate and rural businesses are unable to move forward.”
The CLA believes that it should not be a matter of increasing designation to meet a target quota, but instead focus on how an area can be enhanced particularly for people who live and work there.
Affordable housing is a big issue for local people on the Island, and analysis of house price records shows that high premiums are often paid for properties in areas of designation.
In a letter to Mr Seely outlining the CLA’s views on designated landscapes, Mr Valenzia said: “The CLA supports the need for greater appreciation of the need for a balanced economy in designated areas where economic considerations are given due weight in decision-making. This approach would create a more resilient Island landscape where economic growth can be accommodated to support a stronger environment and vibrant, dynamic communities.
“The CLA recognises the important contribution designation makes to the local economy in providing an attractive landscape where people want to visit work and live. These landscapes also offer public goods to wider society which should act as a window to the rural community, which is important in raising awareness of agricultural and land management practice and food production.”
However, these landscapes are highly managed, and their visual appearance and beauty depend on farmers and land managers actively maintaining them.
Mr Valenzia added: “Those farming these landscapes are often those with the narrowest margins and where challenges of economic viability are tightest and alternative sources of income are essential to maintain the business. Designations bring with them restriction, and the environmental considerations often over-rule the commercial and economic decision-making process which places these businesses under unfair disadvantage to those who are outside these artificial boundaries.”
The CLA is currently organising a debate event, entitled “Should the Island be further protected by extending the AONB or designating as a National Park?” More details will be announced shortly.