3.7.1 Although the AONB embraces 28 parishes lying wholly or partly within its boundary there are few major settlements in the AONB, most are spring-line villages with only Priddy on the plateau itself. The villages and buildings of the AONB are vital elements of its character and are one of the special qualities that create the Mendip Hills sense of place and identity (see P9). Sensitive planning and design of development is crucial in retaining the character and appearance of the landscape particularly the open spaces within villages and the dispersed nature of development.
3.7.2 Responsibility for determining planning applications and transport matters lies with the local planning and highways authorities. The AONB Partnership Committee ‘Guidelines for the referral of planning applications’ determines which applications are referred to the AONB Unit’s Planning Liaison Officer for comment.
3.7.3 Within the context of the National Planning Policy Framework, there is a need to manage development pressures and land use changes both within and in the setting of the AONB with sensitivity in order to maintain a balance in promoting economic and social viability whilst retaining the character of the landscape and enhancing wildlife. Strategies such as Green Infrastructure Plans, Biodiversity Opportunity mapping and landscape character assessments may assist in ensuring this.
3.7.4 Two Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) areas include the Mendip Hills AONB and it is hoped that that they will consider both the rural economy and recognise the benefits of a maintaining high quality landscapes. Their current areas of their work; transport infrastructure, upgrading of digital infrastructure, urban green infrastructure, flood relief work all stands to benefit the local economy.
3.7.5 The response in terms of development to the potential challenges of climate change and the impacts on the designated landscape is one of the most important issues to address. The need to reduce carbon emissions to tackle climate change is widely recognised and there are numerous measures in place to reduce energy use, improve energy efficiency and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by generating electricity via renewable energy sources. Where protected landscapes are concerned, the environmental benefits of generating electricity from renewable sources must be considered against the potential adverse impacts that renewable energy infrastructure may have on the character and quality of our finest landscapes.
3.7.6 The National Grid proposal for the new power line between Hinkley C power station and Seabanks has been progressing with significant AONB input through National Grid’s Landscape and Views thematic group to ensure that impact on the landscape is minimised. Ensuring local authorities work together to ensure consistency in approach to this and other development proposals is a key role for the AONB Partnership.
3.7.7 The process of hydraulic fracturing commonly known as ‘Fracking’ to access sources of shale gas or coal bed methane has emerged as an issue in the AONB. Two companies have been granted licences to test drill in the AONB. The AONB Partnership has serious reservations about the process taking place with regard to impacts on the character of the landscape from buildings and structures, on aquifers and the water table and biodiversity.
3.7.8 Traffic continues to detract from people’s enjoyment of the environment and raises safety issues for vulnerable road users. Public transport needs to be improved to reduce the impact and enable greater access for people with mobility problems and those without access to private cars. Traffic including Heavy Good Vehicles impact on the AONB in variety of ways including tranquillity, visual impact and damage to buildings
3.7.9 Development pressure on the AONB comes from many sources including proposals on the edge of Weston super Mare for significant housing growth that will bring the urban area closer to the edge of the AONB increasing road traffic and recreational use. However there will be opportunities through effective Green Infrastructure strategies to mitigate these.
3.7.10 Tourism is an important element of the economy of the AONB. It is expected that there will be continuing demand for new tourist-related developments in and around the AONB. It will be important to ensure that such development is sustainable and does not detract from the landscape that visitors come to enjoy.
3.7.11 Demand for new equestrian and agricultural buildings continues. The AONB Guidelines for Horse-related Development and Agricultural Buildings Design Supplementary Planning Guidance/Documents seek to influence their design and setting and assist local planning authorities when making planning decisions that affect the AONB.
3.7.12 Noise and activity arising from developments together with lighting can have an adverse impact on the areas tranquillity and dark sky. Mapping of light pollution has shown that the area of dark skies in the Mendip's is shrinking. The AONB Partnership Position Statement on Dark Skies seeks local authorities and others to minimise the impact of lighting.
3.7.13 Issues and characteristic features relating to the conservation and enhancement of the AONB should be incorporated in local plans, such as Parish Plans and Neighbourhood Plans. A number of villages have identified a need for affordable housing and in Priddy and West Harptree they have completed such housing schemes.
3.7.14 Design of roads, signage and lighting can have a significant impact on the visual appearance of the landscape. Removing unnecessary visual clutter and consideration of any new signage is essential for an area in which five local authorities boundaries meet. There is a need for highways authorities to use discretion when following national regulations and demonstrate duty of regard for the AONB.