A LONG-awaited beauty title for an area from Manningtree to Parkeston is a step closer with a final decision just weeks away.

A notice period for the public to have their say on the plans to extend the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to parts of Tendring.started this week and will end on March 22.

It would see the south of the River Stour given extra protection, including the waterfront from Manningtree right along to the edge of Parkeston, including Mistley, Bradfield and Wrabness.

The northern banks of the River Stour, in Suffolk, already have the designation, and campaigners have been pressing for it to be extended to the Essex side for decades.

Last year a consultation was held with maps and details available to the public.

The next step is for the draft proposal to be put out to the public one last time before the designation can be formally confirmed, amended or rejected by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

The AONB extension, the first since the original area was designated in 1970, would see about 15 square miles brought within the protected area, including the Stour Estuary, Samford Valley and Freston Brook Valley.

It would be an increase of 10per cent - a size equivalent to 3,800 international rugby pitches.

Marian Spainm, interim chief executive of Natural England, said: “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty represent some of the country’s most valued landscapes, designated to conserve and enhance natural beauty.

“The extension of Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB would ensure magnificent estuary, valley and woodland views in this part of Suffolk and Essex are given added protection.

"The support and input from the public and stakeholders has been vital in developing these plans, and we look forward to working closely together as we hopefully see them become a reality.”

The final stages of the proposal comes as Julian Glover leads the government’s ongoing review into protected landscapes, the first evaluation in 70 years.

Copies of the draft order, including maps of the areas, have been made available for public inspection at Harwich and Manningtree libraries.