But a no-go policy for car drivers could be just as damaging.
Air pollution, vibration and the introduction of new road schemes are taking their toll; now more room should be made for pedestrians and cyclists. However, care should be taken not to re-route car borne shoppers to other locations, they say.
The advice comes from the Countryside Commission, English Heritage and English Nature in new 86-page guidance for town and country planners: Conservation Issues in Local Plans.
'Equally, by displacing through-traffic, city centre schemes should not lead to the need for a new bypass, nor jeopardise the economic vitality and survival of historic centres.'
The guidance urges a more clearly conservation-led approach to land use planning and the compensation of environmental loss by the creation of new enviromental resources elsewhere. And, too, where landscape character has become too weak, a strategy to improve or even re-create a new landscape may be appropriate.
However, virtually all existing landscapes, no matter how unassuming, mean something special to someone, say the authors. Some of our post industrial landscapes, for example, are among the most significant historical areas.
Urban fringe habitats should be seen as an important bridge between countryside and towns and particular attention should be paid, through special planning policies, to their conservation, enhancement, appropriate use and enjoyment in ways that do not encourage urban sprawl and encroachment into rural areas.
There is a need, too, to maintain variety and distinctivenes - 'among the most prized attributes of both our towns and countryside' - otherwise there is a risk that our surroundings will become 'bland and homogenised'.
While agricultural needs have lessened in recent years, steps should be taken to protect the best of our soil resource as the global view of sustainability may require a greater emphasis on food production in future. Water resources, too, should be considered more carefully within planning decisions if they are to be protected from over exploitation.
The report, which is being sent to planners throughout England, examines a wide range of topics ranging from tourism and recreation to mineral and waste disposal, housing, transport and forestry. It also promotes new ideas on a suitable approach to planning development and conservation.
'There are now enough indicators of significant environmental change to justify a fundamental reassessment of our relationship with the natural and man-made environment,' says the advice.
'The global consequences of the uncontrolled exploitation of raw materials and discharge of waste are now too serious to be ignored.'
Adds the report: 'We have no wish to halt development, but rather to promote the right type of development at the right time and at the right place. Conservation and development are not alternatives, but are contrasting interests that must be reconciled and integrated within the concept of sustainable development. The planning system, properly used, can help to achieve this creative integration.'
-- Conservation Issues in Local Plans (CCP 485) is published by English Heritage, in conjunction with the Countryside Commission and English Nature. It is available, priced £9 from English Heritage E H Postal Sales, PO Box 229 Northampton NN6 9LY. Tel: 01604 781161. Fax: 01604 781714.