Improving landscape and visual impact assessments

3rd September 2012

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  • Local government ,
  • Construction ,
  • Stakeholder engagement ,
  • Engagement



Mark Holland, from Chris Blandford Associates, highlights some opportunities for improvement in landscape and visual impact assessment (LVIA) in practice

One of the commitments made by IEMA in its EIA Quality Mark Scheme is that practitioners commit to the assessment and transparent evaluation of impact significance. Furthermore, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations require the identification and assessment of the main effects a development is likely to have on the environment.

In this context, it was disappointing to find that in a recent review of a third-party’s LVIA prepared as part of a planning application, we identified two important omissions that weakened significantly the credibility of the assessment. These short comings, which may have misled those with the responsibility for determining the application, were:

  • a failure to adequately address the visual effects of the development on residents and the wider community; and
  • the omission of a key aspect of the scheme from the written description and the assessment.

In terms of visual effects, guidance published by the Landscape Institute and IEMA stresses the sensitivity of residential receptors to change in their visual amenity. While the planning system considers public views to be more important than private views, the Landscape Institute and IEMA’s guidance recognises that the cumulative effects on a number of residents may be considered to give rise to an effect on the community.

In this case, the assessment did not consider the potential for change in view from a nearby settlement and nor did the assessor provide any justification for this omission.

Photographs included within the LVIA, which were taken from public viewpoints from in the settlement, clearly demonstrated the development would be visible and a change in the view would result.

As the sensitivity to change of highway users was recorded as low, the assessment concluded the impact would not be significant. However, in the absence of an assessment of views from residential property, it could be argued the photographs were also representative of views which might be experienced by residents. Had this been the case, the sensitivity rating would have increased to high and the impact would have been recorded as significant.

A field visit was able to determine that a large number of residential receptors might be significantly affected and, therefore, it would have also been reasonable to conclude this cumulative effect might have given rise to an adverse effect on the community.

With regards to the second area of concern, the scheme description was focused on the development within the application site boundary. However, due to the size of the development, there was a requirement stipulated by the Highways Authority for a number of off-site highway improvements.

While the highway improvement proposals were submitted as part of the planning application, the LVIA was silent on this important component of the scheme. As a result, the landscape and visual impacts of these works were not assessed, nor were the cumulative effects of both the main development site and highway improvements addressed.

Had an assessment been carried out on the overall scheme, it is possible the predicted effects on characteristic landscape elements – which were reported as beneficial – may have been reported as adverse. Similarly non-significant adverse impacts on landscape character may have been significant.

The failure of the LVIA in this case to properly address the visual effects of the scheme, and to consider fully all aspects of the development, resulted in the impacts being under reported. Had officers in the local planning authority been presented with a more comprehensive assessment, that set out all of the significant landscape and visual effects of the development, their decision to recommend the scheme for approval may have been different.

This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.

Mark Holland is a principal consultant at Chris Blandford Associates


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