It is not well understood that landscape policy and designations have a big role to play in the planning system, both in terms of formulating planning policy at the local and national level, but also in defining what is acceptable in a particular location.
In fact, all local authorities have clear policies identifying landscape character throughout their districts. These are generally underpinned by broad landscape character descriptions. Nearly every locality fits within a Local Landscape Character Area (LLCA). As well as defining a character area, the descriptions will have identified typical characteristics of it,, and will have defined management goals to ensure that the character is maintained or enhanced.
When it comes to planning applications, planning officers need to be satisfied that proposals have taken account of the LLCA in which the site is located, and the applicant must demonstrate that the proposals will be in keeping with the local landscape character and not harm the landscape.
In addition to seeking demonstration of the above, the local authority may also need information about any effects on the visibility of a proposal. Will it increase the prominence of the site in views from public locations? Will it block key or landmark views already identified by the LPA?
An applicant must then be prepared to demonstrate that there proposals will not have effects on visibility and will be in harmony with the local landscape. Enhancements to local landscape are also encouraged. How is this done?
A landscape appraisal is initially prepared. This looks at the proposal site in the context of the National and Local landscape character. This means the baseline is evaluated, by means of desk study data on character area assessment, proximity of protected landscapes in relation to the site (eg, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, or locally designated landscapes) as well as listed buildings (whose settings are protected), and Conservation Areas.
Then the development proposals are considered in this context. The ideal scenario would ensure that any proposal would be in keeping with the local landscape character area, and would supply some benefit to local landscape. This might also include a landscape strategy plan, to demonstrate how the site could be planted up as part of the development.
Any visual effects are considered separately. The key area is the visibility of the site as it is from publicly accessible areas. If the proposals would increase visibility, then where the site would be more visible would be identified, and any measures to reduce increased visibility would be included in the application. It is important to note that visibility from neighbouring properties is not necessarily considered, although there are other aspects of planning control that take this into account.
This is presented in a report which can accompany a planning application, and would be called a Landscape and Visual Appraisal. This level of detail is sufficient for most applications.
LANDSCAPE AND VISUAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT
If the site proposals have been identified as requiring a statutory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), then landscape and visual assessment may be scoped in to the EIA. This means that the local authority or one of their statutory consultees have identified that significant impacts could arise to landscape character or visibility in relation to the development. If a full LVIA is required, then this needs to be done in a structured way, following guidelines developed jointly by the Landscape Institute/Institute of Environmental Management Axxx. This is a much more involved process, and requires a systematic evaluation of the landscape and the proposals and a structured evaluaton of Viewpoints. Photographs are supplied that must meet certain criteria to ensure that they are the best and most accurate representation of the site, and that they have not been digitally manipulated in any way.
An important consideration is any effects on the intrinsic character of the landscape. The entire country has been mapped under the National Character Areas initiative, and additionally there is typically local mapping typologies, called Local Landscape Character Areas (LLCAs) which define the importance of a landscape in the local area, what is acceptable and aspirations for landscape enhancements.
Landscape and visual effects are considered separately. This is an important distinction and often gets confused. An experienced landscape professional knows the difference.
If an application is approved, it very often requires additional information as part of Reserved Matters, also called Planning Conditions. These set out further areas of information needed to commence work on a site. For landscape, these can include landscape strategy plans, planting plans with tables and specifications, and a Landscape (and Ecology) Management Plan or LEMP
Landscape professionals have a well-established approach to long-term management of a site. Landscapes are living entities and need prescribed management to ensure that they are maintained. Planning authorities want to see approved landscape proposals maintained into perpetuity. To meet this, a management plan is prepared. It is typically integrated into any ecology proposals, hence the inclusion of Ecology in the name of the plan The plan will set out short, medium and long term objectives for the proposed landscape, will usually have detailed tables for management, may show phases and areas where certain management needs to be applied.
The length of time the management plan is in place is also included. Thirty years is common, and there should be a requirement for regular up-dating of a management plan. Five year updates and adjustments are typical.
An important consideration is costs. If it is a landscape which will be handed over to the local authority, then detailed costings of the requirements has to be included. The amount is handed over to the local authority using a Section 106 Agreement planning mechanism. It is less commonly used but needs to be borne in mind by applicants. A more common approach is for the developer to set up a management company or to obtain the services of a management company to implement the LEMP. A developer may include a charge to residents to re-coup some of the costs of long-term management, but for LEMPs to be approved by the local authority, a responsible party must be identified and confirm that they are responsible for management.
Case Study: Great Crested Newts in Kent
JFA Environmental Planning was commissioned to undertake four years of great crested newt post-mitigation monitoring for a site in the heart of Kent. Our team monitored the site between November 2017 and July 2021 then provided our client with a full report with fantastic results.
Using the great crested newt suitability index, our team was able to undertake presence/likely absence monitoring surveys, using methods from the Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook for bottle trapping, egg searches, torching and netting.
From the monitoring surveys we could see that while one of the ponds had become less suitable for great crested newts due to lack of vegetation management, the condition of the habitat post-enhancement was still substantially improved from the baseline conditions, which was exciting to see. Moreover, whereas the pond HSI score was originally ‘below average’ suitability in 2015, this increased to ‘excellent’ condition in 2020, before settling to ‘good’ suitability in 2021.
Our team was able to provide our client with substantial findings as well as opportunities and suggestions for future improvements to the site. The client is then able to use these suggestions to increase effectiveness and reduce their impact on the landscape, as well as to further improve connectivity to surrounding habitats and enhance the aesthetic aspects too.
The conclusion of this four-year project was that the initially low population of great crested newts was enhanced as part of the mitigation for the new development, and the peak count of great crested newts recorded within the pond has increased post-development which was a brilliant result. As new developments will focus more and more on biodiversity net gain (BNG) in the coming years, we should expect to see more results like this as we strive to leave the natural environment in a better state than before.
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