Councillors back Suffolk AONB extension as ‘once in a generation’ chance to protect countryside

The AONB on the Suffolk coast and heaths is set to expand Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The AONB on the Suffolk coast and heaths is set to expand Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Councillors in Suffolk have described plans to extend the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as a “once in a generation” opportunity.

Natural England has put together plans to extend the AONB down to the south shore of the River Stour in Essex, and reach the border of the Dedham Vale AONB.

A consultation was launched in January, with Suffolk County Council’s cabinet this afternoon formally backing the proposals to move on to the next stage.

The AONB extension proposal is the first Natural England’s board is considering, and could pave the way for further extensions to AONB areas across the country.

Matthew Hicks, cabinet member for environment, public protection and broadband, said: “I think this is a once in a generation opportunity to move forward an area of Suffolk that is outstanding for its beauty.”

Talks over extending the AONB first began more than 20 years ago.

Councillor David Wood added: “Hopefully with the landscape as important as we have in Suffolk and the pressures the landscape and countryside are under, this will really encourage them [Natural England] to protect this glorious part of Suffolk.”

AONBs are designated areas for conservation because the landscape is considered to be of national importance, and is monitored by Natural England.

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The AONB has already secured £1.1million of funding to bury unsightly electricity cables in Shotley and the Blyth estuary.

Suffolk County Council’s comments will now be submitted to Natural England ahead of the April 20 deadline.

A draft order will then be put together and submitted to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, currently expected later this year.

The AONB annual conference is set to take place in Essex next year, which Mr Wood said he hoped would have the extension announced in time for and allow them to celebrate at the event.

AONB officers in Suffolk work across both the Dedham and Suffolk Coast sites, which councillor James Finch said made the extension to the Dedham border as “very appropriate”.

He added that proposals to extend the Dedham Vale AONB to the west towards Sudbury are also in the early stages of being formed.

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