Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty fears new 700-place free school at Bucks Cross will ‘irrevocably damage’ the landscape.

The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty said it feels ‘deep regret’ over not being able to protect the landscape where a new 700-place school will be built.

AONB chairman Steve Pitcher said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ at the Secretary of State’s decision on Thursday to grant permission for Route 39 to build a new school at Steart Farm, Bucks Cross.

He said: “Even though he accepts that the development would have an adverse and permanent impact on the landscape the Secretary of State has chosen to put other considerations above the protection of that landscape.

“In so doing we believe he has not followed the logic of the policies on protected landscapes in his own Planning Policy Framework.

“It is difficult, as the Inspector points out, to see how the impact of this development can be lessened.

“In our view the quality and character of this part of the AONB will be irrevocably damaged by this decision.

“As chairman of the AONB Partnership I am appalled by the decision and deeply regret that we have not been able to protect both the landscape and the local community from its consequences.”

But Richard Bence, chair of governors, said: “Both the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspector agree with us that Route 39 Academy is ‘a thriving school which provides choice and an inspiring educational experience’.

“The Secretary of State agrees with the inspector that the importance of Steart Farm as an inspirational setting must not be underplayed, and that the proposed location is likely to encourage children to attend school, enjoy their experience there and relate their studies to future careers in, among other matters, conservation and science.”

Torridge district councillor Peter Christie said he could not remember ever hearing of a Planning Inspectorate decision the Secretary of State had overturned.

He added: “This is very rare indeed. It is the triumph of ideology over ecology”

Roy Turner, of Woolsery Parish Council, said the school would ‘turn a dangerous stretch of the A39 into a lethal stretch of road.’

He added: “This development declares ‘open season’ for further encroachment of the AONB.

“I suggest that readers enjoy the North Devon countryside while they can. It is beginning to disappear.”

The Say No To Route 39 group said they are currently seeking legal advice against the decision.