Landscape and Visual Impact (LVIA) – practice update

Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) is an essential tool in the landscape architects arsenal.  It is used to identify possible effects of change and development on the landscape, and on views and visual amenity, so that they can be taken into account in decision-making.  Good practice in LVIA is driven by adherence to professional guidance (the Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment 3rd Edition – referred to by practitioners in shorthand form as ‘GLVIA’) which was updated in 2013 and is regularly reviewed by the Landscape Institute and the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Management (IEMA).   

The process of landscape and visual impact assessment is carried out either formally as part of an EIA, or to support a stand-alone report to the local planning authority to inform a non EIA application. LVIA distinguishes between the effects on the landscape resource and effects on views and visual amenity experienced by people. The settings in which people live their lives are valued by them in complex and diverse ways, so making informed and robust decisions about the quality and value of landscape character and views, and the extent to which they are able to absorb change, can be challenging. A solid framework of guidance on how to achieve this successfully is invaluable.

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The 3rd edition of the LVIA guidance is an ‘evolution rather the revolution’ from the 2nd edition. It responds to developments in landscape planning, such as the evolution of seascape and townscape assessments and ecosystem services.  Since the 2nd edition guidance was published, the UK has signed and ratified the European Landscape Convention (ELC) which defines landscape as:

“an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors” (Council of Europe, 2000).

The ELC emphasises the integral value of all landscapes, not just those with special designations such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks. It requires us to reconsider how we define value in our reports and invest effort in understanding the true value based on a landscape’s qualities and condition, rather than designations alone. The updated guidance also moves away from the matrices and tables previously used to determine significance of effect, and encourages instead well argued, concise text. A number of planning authorities reference GLVIA as part of the information required by the local validation checklist to guide applicants on the landscape and visual information that must be submitted to support planning applications.

In summary, the purpose of the LVIA process is to inform accurate decision making, so it is important that the LVIA report is proportionate to the development proposed.  Huge tomes produced for small scale assessments are both unnecessary and costly, and will probably alienate readers, local residents and local authorities alike. Together with accuracy, the most important attributes of LVIAs are clarity, transparency and accessibility.  If you would like more information about landscape appraisal or LVIA, please contact our Landscape Planners:

Maritta Boden maritta.boden@thelandmarkpractice.com and

Morag MacGregor Morag.MacGregor@thelandmarkpractice.com

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