Beauty spots 'under siege' after planning changes

Natural beauty spots are being placed "under siege" by changes to the planning system, according to countryside campaigners.

New nuclear plants, motorways and airport runways would encroach into Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty such as the Cornwall coast or the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, claims the Campaign to Protect Rural England pressure group.

The Localism Bill being discussed by the House of Lords and a new National Planning Policy Framework to be published this month will loosen restrictions on development and planning law, the group says.

"The 'growth at any cost' stance promoted by some within the Government places our countryside in enormous danger," said Shaun Spiers, the organisation's chief executive. "The Government should be giving very clear guidance to local authorities to protect landscapes."

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are defined as a "precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them". There are 38 in England and Wales, including such well-known landscapes as Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and Dedham Vale on the Essex-Suffolk border.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said the claims were "inaccurate and misleading".