Chapter 6 Dealing with Landscape Effects

Chapter 6 Dealing with Landscape Effects

Chapter 6 Dealing with Landscape Effects


6.1The scoping stage (see Paragraph 4.xx) will have identified a range of potential effects of the project on the landscape. It should also have identified the area that needs to be covered in assessing these effects. This is the area within which it is anticipated that any possible landscape effects may occur.The list ofpotential effects will usually includeeffects on:

  • the individual components of the landscape - the elements and landscape features which make up the study area
  • the aesthetic and perceptual aspects of the landscape - such as, for example, its scale, complexity, openness, tranquillity or wildness
  • the character of the landscape created by particular combinations of these elements, features and aesthetic and perceptual aspects in particular places
  • particularly valued areas of the landscape and the components and special qualities that contribute to this value
  • individual components of the landscape which are particularly valued.

6.2Some of these may already have been considered at the scoping stage but eliminated as being unlikely to occur or so minor that they do not need to be considered further. Any potential effects that have not been eliminated at the scoping stage need to be covered in a more detailed assessment through the steps of:

  • baseline survey of the landscape and its component parts, and of the value attached to it
  • identification and description of the probable effects of the scheme on the landscape
  • evaluation of the effects identified in order to judge their overall significance.

Establishing the landscape baseline

6.3Baseline studies for landscape require a mix of desk study and field work to identify and record the character of the landscape and the elements, features and aesthetic and perceptual factors which contribute to it, as well as the value attached to the landscape. Landscape character assessment(LCA) is the key tool for understanding the landscape and is usually the starting point for baseline surveys. There is a well-established and widely used methodfor LCA, which is set out in current guidance documents[1]. It is a two stage process - the first stage, characterization, is relatively value free and provides an understanding of the nature of the landscape and the way that it varies in the study area. This is expressed as maps and related descriptions of landscape character types or areas and identification of the key characteristics that make each one distinctive. The second stage, making judgments, must be tailored to the particular application. InLVIA it contributes to judgments about the value attached to the landscape

6.4LCA is increasingly complemented by and linked to the parallel technique of Historic Landscape Character Assessment (HLCA) or equivalent and related techniques. While LCA seeks to describe the character of the landscape as it is now, HLCA aims to show how it evolved over time to reach its present character. LCA and HLCA are complementary techniques and together provide a comprehensive understanding of the landscape both past and present. Both should be used, as appropriate, in establishing the character of the landscape in the study area. It should, however, be borne in mind that there may be separate studies of the effects of the proposed change or development on historic landscape character. The approach to LCA will vary depending on the availability of existing characterizations and the need for additional or new baseline assessment work.

6.5Many parts of the UK are covered by existing landscape character assessments at different levels in what is called the hierarchy of assessment, from broad scale national or regional assessments, to more detailed local authority assessments, to in some cases quite fine grain local or community assessments. Many of these assessments have been undertaken to assist in the formulation of Structure Plan, Unitary Development Plan and Local Plan policies, and also for specific purposes like the development of indicative strategies for forestry, or to facilitate policy formulation in countryside management. But they can also contribute to LVIA and the first step in preparing the baseline landscape description should be to review the relevant assessments that may be available at all levels in this hierarchy.

6.6Existing assessments should be reviewed criticallyas their quality may vary and some may be dated. Before deciding to rely on information from an existing assessment it should be reviewed in terms of:

  • when it wascarried out and the extent to which the landscape may have changed since then
  • the scale and level of detail of the assessment and its suitability for use in the LVIA
  • any other matters which might limit the reliability or usefulness of the information

6.7Broad scale assessments at national or regional level can be helpful in setting the landscape context, but are unlikely to be helpful on their own as the basis for LVIA – they are too generalized to be fit for purpose. Local authority assessments will provide more useful information about the landscape types that occur in the study area. Ideally both should be used together in the following ways:

  • broadscale assessments set the scene and reference can be made to the descriptions of relevant character types or areas to indicate the key characteristics that may be apparent in the study area;
  • local authority assessments provide more detail on the types of landscape that occur in the study area. They can be mapped to show how they relate to the proposals and the descriptions and definition of key characteristics can be used to inform description of the landscapes that may be affected by the proposal.

6.8New landscape character assessment work will be required when there are no existing assessments or when they are available but either have serious limitations that restrict their value or do not provide information at an appropriate level of detail. New surveys should follow recommended methods and up to date guidance. In brief they should consist of desk study and field work to allow characterization of the landscape and identification of the most important factors contributing to this. The methods are equally applicable to townscapes and urban settings, to urban fringe areas, to coastal landscapes and seascapes, and to rural landscapes. Key points about the work required are summarized below, but this is not a substitute for consulting detailed guidance on methods where much more detail is available.

Desk Study

6.9Desk study is required primarily to understand the ‘layers of landscape’ - that is to map the attributes such as geology , landform, soils, hydrology, land cover, building types, settlement patterns, types of field enclosure and boundaries and other factors which interact together to shape the landscape. The aim should be firstly to look at these layers separately and then to examine the relationships between them to see how they begin to indicate patterns of distinctive character.Desk study should draw on all relevant sources of information including[CS1]:

  • geological maps and soil maps;
  • base maps at appropriate scales, especially those that provide good detail of contours and of matters like field patterns, settlement patterns, urban morphology and street patterns;
  • landform data, including digital terrain model data;
  • aerial photographs both current and historical, since comparisons may throw light on change in the landscape;
  • any Historic Landscape Characterisation studies (or equivalent) for the area, which will provide information on the ‘time-depth’ dimension of the landscape;
  • land cover and land use data, including vegetation types and tree cover, although if not available this can be mapped from aerial photographs;
  • surveys of aesthetic and perceptual aspects of the landscape, including for exampletranquility mapping;
  • existing reports and surveys which may help to identify landscape character and identify changes that are affecting it.

6.10Once the relevant information has been assembled and reviewed the map layers need to be combined to establish relationships and identify patterns. This can be done digitally using GIS or manually using map overlays. As a result initial ideas about areas of distinct landscape character should begin to emerge. The scale of the areas identified depends to some degree on the nature of the assessment the information is to be used for. If a fine grained assessment is required to refine or add local detail to a broader scale assessment, or if the nature of the development proposal requires detailed understanding of the individual components of the landscape in the vicinity, it may be necessary to survey the landscape in some detail. Importantly the steps in the process and the decisions taken at different points should be recorded so that they are transparent.

Field Survey

6.11Desk study can usually only tell part of the story and must be complemented by fieldwork, especially at the local scale. Field survey is designed to:

  • record aspects of landscape character that are not apparent in the birds eye view provided by maps and aerial photographs, especially the nature of and interactions between individual components, and the aesthetic and perceptual qualities of the landscape;
  • assist in decisions about how the landscape can best be divided into landscape types or areas of distinct character and where boundaries should be drawn;
  • allow accurate descriptions of landscape character and identifications of the key characteristics that contribute most to this character;
  • record any visible evidence of change in the landscape;
  • contribute to judgements about the value of the landscape and the way that it will be affected by the proposed change or development.

6.12Timing of field work needs careful consideration. Ideally account should be taken of both seasonal change in the landscape and change related to time of day - for example the influence of artificial lighting on the night sky. Practical considerations may mean that it is not possible to carry out repeat surveys in different seasons. If so thought must still be given to how the landscape may change at different times of the year.

6.13Field survey must be comprehensive and tailored to the needs of the specific project and to the landscape context:

  • In urban settings field survey will give greater attention to matters of built form such asthe height and size of buildings, the nature of building facades,the relationship between buildings and adjacent spaces, and the nature of views, vistas and skylines. Building materials and the way that they are used will be important. So too will the way that buildings are constructed, particularly the methods and details of construction used;
  • In rural settings there will be more emphasis on the relationship between geology, soils and landform, and on the way that these relate to land cover, notably the mix of arable and pastoral farming and the presence and nature of semi-natural vegetation. Pattern and texture in the landscape often relate to the size and grain of woods and fields, so recording field patterns, field boundaries and other details of the fabric of the landscape will be important.

6.14It can be helpful to carry out surveys related to the characterization of the landscape separately from any recording of information to help in judgments of value. But this may not always be possible,in which case the field survey should be designed to record information about the intactness and condition of the landscape and about attributes and qualities that may help in judgments about its value. The survey may be covering a more limited survey area in the vicinity of a proposed development but placing it in the context of existing broader scale landscape character assessments. In that case it may also be necessary to judge whether the immediate landscape is typical of its wider setting or different from it. This might require judgment about whether and to what extent the key characteristics of landscape types and areas identified at the higher level are represented in the more local area.

6.15Information can be recorded in a variety of ways but good records are essential. This is especiallyso in LVIA as the landscape baseline may eventually be used in a public inquiry where other parties could request access to field records. It is important that:

  • appropriaterecord sheets should be used. Although there are many examples available in guidance documents and elsewhere it is very important to use one designed specifically for the specific location and purpose;
  • the sheets should include written descriptions, checklists of the components of the landscape and the aesthetic and perceptual qualities it displays, sketches if helpful and links to map annotations and photographic records;
  • both paper copies and digital recording methods can be used but most importantly the information must be easily retrievable and accessible to others;

Analysis and synthesis

6.16Analysis and synthesis should draw upon the information gathered during the desk study and field survey work, drawing as appropriate on documentary evidence. A baseline landscape description should be prepared and presented in a clear, well-structured and accessible reportsupported by illustrations. This should:

  • map and describe, at an appropriate level of detail, the character of the landscape, dividing it into landscape character types and areas as appropriate. Each should be mapped and described and its key characteristics set out;
  • where a detailed level of assessment is needed, map and record the individual elements, features and qualities of the landscape in different parts of the study area;
  • describe the condition of the different landscape types and/or areas, and their constituent parts and document, drawing on previous reports and data sources as well as field records,and any evidence of current pressures causing change in the landscape.

6.17The condition[CS2] of the landscape refers to the state of an individual area of landscape and should be described as factually as possible. Reference to the maintenance and condition of individual elements or features such as buildings, hedgerows, woodland,for example, can be helpful. Evidence about change in the landscape, including in its condition, is an important part of the baseline. The aim should be not only to describe the landscape as it is now, but also what it will be like in the future at the time when the new development that is proposed is about to take place. This means projecting forward any trends in change and predicting how they will affect the landscape over time. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘do minimum’ situation as opposed to ‘do nothing’.

Determining the value of the landscape

6.18As part of the baseline survey and analysis the value of the affected landscape must be determined. Landscape value has been defined[2] as “the relative value that is attached to different landscapes by society”. It can apply to areas of landscape as a whole, or to the individual elements, features and aesthetic or perceptual dimensions which contribute to the character of the landscape. Landscapes or their component parts may be valued at the community, local, national or international levels. A review of existing landscape designations is usually the starting point in understanding landscape value but the value attached to undesignated landscapes also needsto be carefully considered. Individual elements of the landscape - such as trees, buildings, hedgerows, or historic features may also have value. All need to be considered.

6.19Information that will contribute to understanding value can be obtained by researching existing evidence about how people value the landscape of the study area. This might include:

  • information about areas recognised by international designation or treaty, such as World Heritage Areas and national designations;
  • local planning documents which may show the extent of and policies for local landscape designations , where they exist, and for Conservation Areas;
  • information on the status of individual features such as, for example, Listed Buildings, Tree Preservation Orders; ‘important’ hedgerows under the terms of the Hedgerow Regulations (1997);Registered Parks and Gardens; and special historical or cultural heritage sites (especially registered battlefields, historic gardens and designed landscapes);
  • tourism literature and promotional material, which may show value attached to the identity of particular areas (e.g. 'Constable Country');
  • material on landscapes of local or community interest, such as local green space, village greens orallotments.

International and national designations

6.20Internationally acclaimed landscapes may be recognised as World Heritage Sites and particular planning policies may apply to them. Nationally valued landscapes are recognised by designations, which have a formal statutory basis that varies in different parts of the UK. They include:

  • National Parksin England and Scotland
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beautyin England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • National Scenic Areas in Scotland.

6.21The criteria used in making these designations vary. If a project that is subject to LVIA is in or near to one of them, it is vital that the baseline study should help to fully understand the basis for the designation and why the landscape is considered to be of value. This means:

  • understanding the specific basis for the designation of the area, especially the selection criteria applied at the time of designation, the approach to the definition of boundaries, and whether or not the landscape has subsequently changed.
  • determining to what degree the criteria and factors used to support the case for designation are represented in the specific study area.

6.22Desk study of relevant documents will provide the information on the basis for designation but sometimes, at the more local scale of a LVIA study area, it is possible that the landscape value may be different to that suggested bythe formal designation in terms of its contribution to its immediate environment.The fieldworkcan help to establish how the criteria for designation are expressed in the specific area. At the same time it should be recognized that every part of a designated area contributes to the whole and care must be taken if considering them in isolation.

Local landscape designations

6.23In many parts of the UK local authorities identify locally valued landscapes and recognise them through local designations of various types (such as Special Landscape Areas, Areas of Great Landscape Value). They are then incorporated into planning documents along with accompanying planning policies that apply in those areas. As with national designations the criteria that are used to identify them vary and similar considerations apply. It is necessary to understand the reasons for the designation and to examine how the criteria relate to the particular area in question. Unfortunately some of these locally designated landscapes do not have good records of how they were selected what criteria were used and how boundaries were drawn. This can make it difficult to get a clear picture of how a study area fits into the wider context of the designation.