Residential visual amenity assessment in EIA

10th July 2012

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  • Energy ,
  • Construction ,
  • Stakeholder engagement ,
  • Renewable



LUC's Rebecca Knight considers the growing importance of residential visual amenity as part of environmental impact assessment (EIA) for windfarms

Residential visual amenity means visual amenity from residential properties including their gardens. It is a subset of residential amenity, which also includes aspects such as noise, light, vibration and shadow flicker, and it is becoming increasingly important in EIA for renewable energy developments, particularly windfarms.

The approach taken by reporters in Scotland, and inspectors in England, confirms that in planning no individual has the right to a particular view. However, there may be a point when, by virtue of the proximity, size and scale of a development, a residential property would be rendered so unattractive a place to live that planning permission should be refused. The question of when a property becomes an unattractive place to live relates to the property and not to the occupier.

A landscape architect’s or planner’s assessment?

The assessment of whether a change in outlook materially harms residential amenity or living conditions is ultimately a planning judgement, and may be set out as part of a planning statement or as part of witness’ evidence.

However, a judgement on the visual component of residential amenity is often needed from a landscape architect to inform the planning judgement, and this is increasingly being undertaken as part of EIA.

It is important to note that a significant adverse change to an outlook from a property does not in itself result in material harm to living conditions – there needs to be a degree of harm over and above this to warrant a refusal in the public interest.

Which criteria might be used?

There is no published guidance on how impacts on residential visual amenity should be assessed, or the criteria that should be applied in considering the extent of any such impacts. However, the matter of consideration of potential effects on living conditions has been examined at several public inquiries:

The inspector’s decision in respect of the proposed Sixpenny Wood development states that: “There is no right to a view per se, and any assessment of visual intrusion leading to a finding of material harm must therefore involve extra factors such as undue obtrusiveness, or an overbearing impact leading to a diminution of conditions at the relevant property to an unacceptable degree”.

At Enifer Downs, Inspector Lavender considered the extent to which the visual experience from the dwelling and garden may be comparable to “actually living within the turbine cluster” rather than a turbine cluster being present close by, and the extent to which the turbines were “unpleasantly overwhelming and unavoidable”.

Meanwhile, at the Burnthouse Farm appeal, the inspector posed the question: “would the proposal affect the outlook of these residents to such an extent, ie to become so unpleasant, overwhelming and oppressive that this would become an unattractive place to live?”

In considering these and other appeal decisions, it is clear that the visual effect of a windfarm has to be commonly described as overbearing, oppressive, unpleasantly overwhelming or unavoidably present in main views, for there to potentially be material harm to living conditions.

The following may inform the assessment:

  • The scale of change in the view, including composition in the view and proportion of the view affected.
  • The degree of contrast or integration of any new features into the view.
  • The duration and nature of effect, whether temporary or permanent, intermittent or continuous, for example.
  • The angle of view in relation to the main activities of the receptor.
  • The relative size and proximity of new features in the view.

The importance of objective assessment

Assessing the effect of changes in outlook from properties has been a key focus of many recent public inquiries for wind energy developments and is of considerable interest to people living close to proposed developments.

At LUC our landscape architects undertake objective visual amenity assessments from residential properties to inform this important and developing aspect of EIA.

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

Rebecca Knight is a landscape architect at LUC. [email protected]


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