New report highlights need to protect £230m coast as AONB proves vital to Suffolk’s economy

River Blyth Walberswick 2011

River Blyth Walberswick 2011 - Credit: Mike Page

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty doesn't simply look good and it's not just hugely important for wildlife – it's crucial to the economic wellbeing of the county as a whole.

That clear message shines through a county council officers' report that calls on councillors to back a major new blueprint for the management of the AONB over the next five years.

Suffolk County Council's cabinet is being asked to approve and adopt a management plan for the highly acclaimed and well-loved AONB which is recognised at local, national and international level for its wildlife, landscape and heritage qualities.

The plan covers the years 2013-2018 and follows an 18-month consultation period in which views from local communities, professional interests and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership which involves 26 organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The officers' report says: 'As well as being an important environmental and cultural asset, the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a valuable economic asset. The value of tourism in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is calculated at about £234million per year in 2012. This contribution to Suffolk's economy depends upon a high-quality landscape to attract visitors and tourists.'

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The management plan would 'ensure that the environment is protected and continues to attract visitors and tourists to the area.'

The report continues: 'Given the contribution the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty makes to the Suffolk economy, it is crucial that the environment is protected and enhanced. Development needs to be sustainable and of high quality to reflect the characteristics of the area.

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'A good example of this approach is the way in which the partnership has responded to the proposed Sizewell C development. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the county council have said to the developer that the development must be managed as an environmental exemplar.'

The AONB boundary stretches from Mutford in the north and almost to Felixstowe in the south, with an extension around the Orwell and Stour estuaries. About 22,000 people live within the area 'although far more people from Suffolk and beyond benefit from the area's natural beauty,' the report points out. Cabinet members are told that the county council currently contributes about 18%, or about £66,000, of the AONB's core annual budget of about £354,000. About 50% of the budget came from Defra and the rest came from the other local authorities in the area and a small amount came from partners.

The report adds: 'It is recognised that there may be reductions in funding to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Defra during the next Comprehensive Spending Review period. A local finance review is currently taking place to achieve the budget reduction whilst ensuring the management plan can still be delivered within budget. This review is being undertaken by the funding partners including Suffolk County Council. The plan itself does not commit the county council to any particular level of funding.

'Most importantly, it should be noted that the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty brings in significant external project funding in addition to the core budget. This includes about £1m for the Heritage Lottery Funded Touching the Tide Landscape Partnership Scheme and about 500,000 euros for Balance, a visitor assets project. In addition, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has secured funding through an Ofgem allowance to underground low-voltage power cables running through the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This has a value to date of about £3m in landscape enhancement works.'

A delay in approving and adopting the management plan, officers warn, would 'incur a serious loss of credibility and goodwill, and possibly put external funding opportunities at risk. There may also be indirect resource implications for the county council if partners have to undertake work themselves that the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could deliver more efficiently.'

They add: 'It is important to note that the management plan is a partnership document; no one organisation is responsible for its implementation, rather the management plan sets out the partnership's joint priorities and a joint framework for delivering them.'

The cabinet considers the plan on June 11, with formal submission to Natural England taking place following members' approval.

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