An integrated approach to landscape and townscape assessment is needed.
A year after the publication of the Planning the Future White Paper (August 2020), it seems the right time to re-evaluate where we are with the professional tools that are associated with the delivery of the planning reform. This is particularly key now that the Environment Bill was updated in September and the Brexit withdrawal process is in full swing.
While we are still digesting the proposal for a renewed planning system, local and national policies are already evolving, including the National Planning Policy Framework review (NPPF, July 2021). Many local authorities have stepped up their game, setting aspirational goals and requirements around climate change and other environmental issues. Therefore, it is inevitable that established, widely-applied methods to assess and support planning applications on environmental matters are deemed to undergo a substantial review along with the wider planning system.
Proposal 16 of the White Paper suggests that a quicker and simpler framework to undertake Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is necessary to ensure a smoother planning application process. Landscape or Townscape & Visual Impact Assessments (LVIA or TVIA) were regulated by the relevant European Directive. While Brexit did not cause any practical changes to the EIA framework, the proposed planning reform challenges the current practice, wishing for a more integrated and streamlined approach.
As a landscape architect, this change in practice is music to my ears! One of the greatest qualities of our profession is a strong holistic approach. We are trained to look at the bigger picture and provide suitable advice based on a comprehensive understanding of the site and its context. Collaboration with other disciplines therefore becomes essential to inform our work.
LVIAs and TVIAs, within or outside EIA projects, benefit from the collaboration with several topics that are equally concerned with the value of the site’s context, such as heritage, biodiversity and ecological assessment. We are ahead of the game and advocate for an integrated approach that would clearly and appropriately knit together all relevant disciplines to compile a cohesive narrative. In turn, this avoids unnecessary duplication: a slim but comprehensive approach!
Suitable assessments that are bespoke to the scale and qualities of our clients projects are key. While they sit in accordance with relevant guidance, they should be informed by consistent collaboration with experts across the Planning sector, such as Heritage consultants or those who specialise in conducting Environmental Impact Assessments. However, it is pivotal to widen this reach to all disciplines associated with landscape and townscape issues, such as Health & Wellbeing, Natural Capital Accounting and Ecosystem Services. Any insight provided helps to create a comprehensive approach to Landscape and Townscape Assessments – something that is becoming increasingly important as practice continues to change.