What is a Landscape Visual Impact Assessment?
Ultimately the biggest question that planners ask when they see an application for a new home is ‘How will this new building impact on the local area.’ Clearly this includes several different elements, including the impact of additional people and vehicles, and how the local roads are affected, and so on – but primarily this is an assessment of the visual impact that the new home will have.
Because this can be interpreted quite subjectively and the danger is that planning departments take a view on the impact that is not formed in the – to put it gently – way that the applicant would like. As a result, it is wise for people looking to build homes in ‘sensitive’ areas to commission and submit an independently-produced Landscape Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) which addresses head-on the impact that the new home will have on its landscape. By submitting an LVIA you are setting the framework for the discussion.
There are three good political reasons for doing this.
- First of all, by submitting something like this with your application, you are signaling to the planning department that you’ve considered the impact of your home as a central part of the design principles.
- It also shows that you mean business – and because your argument is (hopefully) so well presented, it signals to the planning department that you’re probably willing to pursue the application seriously, to appeal if necessarily. And that’s usually the last thing that a busy planning department needs.
- Lastly, by addressing the points that are likely to crop up on your own terms, you’re taking control of the debate – setting the framework, if you will – and it’s usually therefore easier to position yourselves ahead of the argument rather than behind it. Which in planning terms is a good thing.
How to Create a Landscape Visual Impact Assessment
So what should it address, what should it contain, and how do you produce one?
Well, the primary concern of an LVIA is the impact of the new building on the views, and the landscape itself. Have a read of the publication Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Assessment (3rd edition, known as GLVIA3) if you really want to know the ins and outs, but you should employ a ‘suitably qualified landscape professional’ to manage this process and produce the document for you.
This would in most cases be a Landscape Architect. You can find them through the Landscape Institute. They would need to establish the impact of the building on the local natural and built environment from all different aspects – clearly with the overall message of minimising the effect it has.
As a result, you’ll be wanting to include quite a lot of visualisations of the project, and the better they can be presented, the more likely you are to get your message across. You’ll also need to grade the impact (serious, minimal, moderate etc.) as honestly as possible. As with any submission that supports planning applications like this, it should be presented formally and using the methodology outlined in GLVIA3.
This methodology would typically be:
- Identify the study area and its planning context
- Assess the landscape character types, landscape features, scenery, land-use, topography and public access
- Identify the constraints and opportunities likely to influence the design process
- Identify, describe and assess the physical and visual impacts that the proposed development would have on the existing landscape and on visual amenity
- Propose measures to enhance the building’s setting and the wider landscape
- Identify and assess residual impacts
It should consider landscape impacts such as the character and quality of existing scenery, key landscape features, the degree of likely change, and the ability of the landscape to accommodate change. It should also consider visual impacts resulting from changes to the appearance of the landscape as a result of the development proposals either intruding into or obstructing existing views or by the overall impact on visual amenity. The degree of impact depends on both the degree of change and the sensitivity of the affected receptors.
The LVIA should then go on to identify how the applicant has mitigated these issues.
Was it worth it?
Easily, says Charlie. “Identifying the sustainability of a new scheme such as this is all about showing the effects it has on the local landscape. An LVIA is a formalized way of checking off those particular areas of concern. We’ll never know whether the scheme would have gained approval without it, of course, but I’m confident that it helped to shut down any negative commentary on the scheme that could have come to pass.”