13 December 1996

Character map brings new definition to plans

LANDOWNERS have expressed concern that local authorities could halt agricultural development by using the newly launched countryside character map for planning restrictions.

While conservation groups back the Countryside Commission/ English Nature map, which breaks up England into 159 separate character areas, the CLA is concerned that planners and policy makers could abuse the scheme.

George Dunn, CLA rural affairs spokesman, said: "If it is wrongly used it could become the largest non-statutory designation ever to be introduced into England.

"We want to make sure there is full consultation with local planners, particularly as county and district councils are being asked to produce more detailed local plans."

Gregor Hutcheon, Council for the Protection of Rural England rural affairs officer, said the character map of England was "a welcome new tool for everyone with an interest in the countryside. The key question is how the maps will now be used in practice, particularly in the planning system."

The Earl of Cranbrook, English Nature chairman, said he believed the map would help provide a national benchmark against which future landscape changes could be monitored.

Dr Stephen Tapper, Game Conservancy Trust director of research, added that the map would help government in its agri-environment spending. "We have already seen character definition play an important role in the formulation of Environmentally Sensitive Areas.

"This will help us move away from the county boundary mentality, where sites have been designated simply because they hold species rare within the county but often common elsewhere."n