Toggle menu

The publication of GLVIA, the third edition of Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment

BY RUTH SLAVID, Editor
More than a decade after the second edition of Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment was published, its successor has appeared. ‘Appeared’ however is not the right word, since it suggests a certain effortlessness, whereas the effort that went into this important book was considerable. It involved not only the research and the writing, but extensive consultation both within and outside the Landscape Institute.

The work involved was certainly worth it, since GLVIA3 is a crucially important book, at the heart of what the Landscape Institute does. It is an approach that allows professionals to assess the effect that proposed developments will have on the landscape and on people’s visual appreciation of it. These assessments play a vital part in the planning process, offering some of the evidence that is needed in order for decision makers to be able to say yes or no to proposals or to ask for changes. This new guidance not only brings its predecessor up to date but offers a fresh approach, stressing the need for professional judgment and presentation by those doing the work, rather than setting out protocols that could in the worst instances be followed blindly without true understanding.

In this feature we look in some detail at what the guidance says, including a quick beginners’ guide to LVIA. We also interview Carys Swanwick who had the important but challenging task of writing the report.

A book is by definition a finished thing, but this one has been written in a way that should ensure that it dates as slowly as possible. While it sets out to offer the best and most intelligent guidance, it will also be a jumping-off point for further discussion. The pieces in this issue of the journal should be seen as both a taster for the book itself, and a stimulus for that discussion.

Understanding the Guidelines

Landscape and visual impact assessments should focus on proportionality, transparency, professional judgement, clear communication and presentation. The skills of landscape professionals will be paramount in carrying out this work.

he third edition of Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment is one of the most significant publications with which the Landscape Institute has been associated for some years. Jeff Stevenson, chair of the advisory panel for the book says, ‘We have to assess impacts properly and make sure that the outcomes of our assessments are better presented. We are trying to bring forward the role of the landscape professional, and are engaged in the process of helping decision makers make better decisions and be accountable for them.’

GLVIA3 aims to do this by building on the strengths of the two preceding editions, eschewing a tick-box approach and instead providing a framework within which landscape professionals can use their skills and judgment to make recommendations about projects. Produced jointly by the Landscape Institute and IEMA (the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment), GLVIA3 has drawn on the experience and opinion of the advisory panel, of Carys Swanwick who wrote the third edition, as well as of a broad range of individuals and organizations who took part in the consultation process. These included LI members and registered practices and a wide range of statutory and non-statutory stakeholders.

It has been 11 years since GLVIA2 was published, and in her foreword LI president Sue Illman writes, ‘The new edition is comprehensive and clear, covering the many developments that have taken place in the scope and nature of impact assessment since publication of the second edition. There have been significant changes to the environmental framework within which LVIA is now undertaken, particularly with the UK Government’s ratification of the European Landscape Convention, confirming the importance and role of the landscape as
used and enjoyed by all.’

With any publication such as this, where a pristine copy is likely to replace a well-thumbed version, the first thing anybody wants to know is, ‘What is different?’. In this case there are a number of significant differences, which is why the LI issued advice to the profession, guiding members as to how to proceed during the transition to the publication of the new book in April.

The main change is one of approach. Carys Swanwick, who wrote the book, said, ‘The most important aspect to my mind has been the search for an appropriate balance between a very prescriptive approach, which encourages practitioners to treat the guidance as a recipe book from which standard solutions can be “cranked out”, and an approach that establishes a clear framework but allows the response to be tailored to the individual circumstances of each project.

‘This was a particularly difficult challenge when we tackled the matter of assessing the significance of landscape and visual effects. I am sure that there will be those who feel that we haven’t been prescriptive enough, and others who feel that we have been too prescriptive or that we have prescribed the wrong thing!’

John Briggs, of Natural Resources Wales, said, ‘It won’t suit everybody. People will have to think more. Some people are reassured by having a tried and tested method where the results just pop out. But it is difficult for landscape to be considered in that way.’ The book has been written to be as clear and easy to follow as possible, in sensible plain English. It emphasises the aspects that are essential to successful landscape and visual impact assessment: proportionality to ensure that relevant weight is given to the most important elements; transparency of professional judgement: to allow others to see how judgements have been reached and what reasoning has been applied by the assessor and communication and presentation, so that the people reading the assessment can actually understand what is being said.

Evolving thinking

The partnership with IEMA was vital to the success of the book, believes Swanwick. ‘I think the close working with IEMA helped to make sure that the guidance was in tune with evolving thinking about EIA processes more generally,’ she said. ‘For example this edition of the guidance devotes far more space to the difficult issue of cumulative-effects assessment’.

There is an entire chapter devoted to the topic. It is, says GLVIA3, ‘an evolving area of practice that is relevant to all forms of development and land use change. It is not appropriate to prescribe the approach to such assessment since the issues related to cumulative effects depend on the specific characteristics of both the development proposal and the location. The challenge is to keep the task reasonable and in proportion to the project under consideration. Common sense has a large part to play in reaching agreement about the scope of the assessment’.

These guiding principles have driven Swanwick’s work on the new edition, which of course contains changes both large and small. The first major change is to the introductory text, which brings the book up-to-date in terms of the changes in guidance and practice since 2002, including the introduction of the European Landscape Convention.

It explains the growing emphasis on green infrastructure, on developments in landscape character assessment and in seascape character assessment, in the widespread use of historic landscape characterisation and related tools and the new emphasis on ecosystem services.

It takes further the particular emphasis on the distinction between landscape effects and visual effects that was made in GLVIA2. It starts by giving a clear definition of the difference between the two, saying: ‘An assessment of landscape effects deals with the effects of change and development on landscape as a resource’, whereas, ‘An assessment of visual effects deals with the effects of change and development on the views available to people and their visual amenity’.

Because of the importance of this distinction, there are two separate chapters on these topics, setting them within an overall description of common processes. This means that there is an unavoidable degree of repetition but this was felt to be a price worth paying for stressing the differences.

Changes in emphasis

There are also changes in emphasis. Relative to its predecessor, GLVIA3 emphasises the need to build the assessment around a consistent framework of factors that need to be considered, rather than having a prescriptive description of different categories. This should help to ensure the clear judgement and transparency which it argues are vital.

It follows the guidance in environmental impact assessment regulations and the EC directive from which they are derived which requires the identification of ‘likely significant effects’ rather than any or all effects. GLVIA3 emphasises the importance of this, while recognising that many decision makers prefer a more subtle assessment which considers relative significance against a scale.

In terms of communication, GLVIA3 stresses the importance of having a well-argued narrative text to make clear what the significant issues and effects are. Tables and matrices, it says, should support this text rather than being relied upon to too great a degree.

It also emphasises that the work that is carried out in LVIA should be proportional to the scale and nature of the development that is proposed.

The new version expands the material in the previous edition on the overall presentation of LVIA. It attempts to be aligned with but not bound by other guidance (that is, it does not conflict but it does not follow slavishly).

Sometimes what is left out of a book is as important as what it contains. There are elements that were contained in GLVIA2 that have been omitted because it was thought that they could be misleading. So the new book does not contain examples of judgements and assessments of significance because these were too frequently interpreted as offering prescriptive or definitive guidance rather than simply being examples. For similar reasons, no case studies have been included. This is because when GLVIA2 was used, it turned out not to be clear whether these case studies were simply examples (which was the intention) or whether they were intended to represent best practice. So GLVIA3 just uses examples to illustrate some of the points in the text.

One particular concern was that these examples should cover a range of types of development. Over the past few years there has been an enormous amount of discussion of and controversy about wind farms. While their impact on the landscape can be considerable and important they are not the only issue with which LVIA has to deal. Care was therefore taken in the choice of illustrations to ensure that various forms of development were illustrated.

In order to remain topical, GLVIA3 deliberately seeks to avoid being bound by current statute and guidance. To do so would lead to it rapidly becoming out of date. Instead it encourages practitioners to make themselves aware of relevant guidance as it evolves and to keep themselves up to date.

Julian Francis, principal landscape architect with the Environment Agency, explained: ‘An area I’ve been involved in as the IEMA representative on the GLVIA review panel is my role in helping to ensure that there is agreement between both the IEMA and LI memberships over the content to produce a robust book that will be practical and will usefully serve both professions.

‘We have striven throughout the production of this third edition to ensure that the lifetime of the guidance is not made foreseeably short lived by the introduction of specific aspects that could lead to the book becoming outdated early on during its service.’

The Landscape Institute is aware that change starts to happen as soon as a document is completed (even before GLVIA3 was printed there was the publication of proposals that would lead to a completely new EIA Directive).

This is inevitable, and has been anticipated. The Landscape Insitute has set up a webpage devoted to GLVIA at bit.ly/wWLvGS and also is encouraging discussion on Talking Landscape. In this way practitioners will be able to share knowledge of best practice.

WHAT NEXT FOR GLVIA?

As well as omitting items that will date GLVIA3, and ensuring that there is a forum for discussion, the book aims as far as possible to be able to deal with the changes that will arise in the future.

‘We have tried to anticipate what the profession’s needs will be as questions arise in the future,’ said Jeff Stevenson. ‘I think there will be more accountability in decision making. That means that decision makers will have to have an appropriate corpus of information possible. Landscape and visual resources are increasingly understood to be at the core of people’s lives and well-being. The third edition also provides a reminder to the landscape professional to recall what is said in the Royal Charter. Landscape professionals have responsibilities to the character and quality of the environment. We should seek to manage change in the landscape for the benefit of both this and future generations and we should seek to enhance the diversity of the natural environment, to enrich the human environment and to improve them in a sustainable manner. GLVIA3 has a part to play in this process.’

Just as wind farms have come to dominate concerns about the landscape, so solar farms are likely to have an increasing impact. Laura Campbell at Scottish Natural Heritage also expects growth in coastal energy proposals, in micro-hydro and in tidal energy, as well as smaller-scale wind generation. It is important, she said, that the guidance has a focus on what will be significant ‘rather than just providing a load of information. This should help focus on the germane points.’

The landscape in Scotland is becoming an increasingly emotive issue, especially in relation to wind turbines and questions of what comprises wild spaces. ‘GLVIA3 can provide a clear way of rationalizing various landscape elements and help tease out the issues,’ she said.

Chris Bolton of Natural England also believes that LVIA may come to be applied to smaller developments in addition to the larger ones. ‘It may be that the guidelines will be applied more locally to such developments,’ he says. ‘It will help to nuance them.’ He also thinks it is vital that there is more awareness beyond the landscape profession of what LVIA consists of. ‘There should be more understanding and awareness,’ he said, ‘among local authority planners in particular.’

For Peter Herring at English Heritage, the new edition represents an opportunity to raise awareness of the historic landscape. ‘English Heritage welcomed the LI’s proposals for a new third edition of the GLVIA as it provided an opportunity to include more on the historic environment, on land and at sea, and better links with the cultural sections in EIAs, and in particular reference to historic landscape characterisation,’ he said.

‘The cultural dimension of landscape extends well beyond simply the tangible aspects of how it has been shaped in the past and today. Even in areas viewed by many as being “wild” or as showing little obvious evidence for human intervention, it is also about how we view, understand and respond to landscape, intangible themes which themselves have a clear historical development and which have always driven our actions, whether consciously or not, and still do.’

Every organisation sees the development of landscape and the challenges in a different way. We cannot deny that there will be a variety of pressures for change, with a growing population and diminishing resources. All over the UK organisations will have to make decisions about the landscape and visual impacts of proposed developments, will have to decide if they are acceptable, unacceptable or can be mitigated. The first two editions of GLVIA have played an important role in this process. The publication of GLVIA3 is another step forward.

But what is LVIA?

For many landscape professionals, Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment forms a major element of their work. But others may scarcely come across it, either because it is not the type of work that their practice undertakes, or because it is the responsibility of others within the practice.

For example, Tim Waterman, honorary editor of Landscape, says, ‘Because of the broad nature of landscape architecture, many practitioners will rarely encounter LVIA, while others may be largely occupied with it. For largely the same reasons, universities approach the teaching of LVIA with different levels of concentration dependent upon the larger focus of their programmes.’

So what is it that the Landscape Institute is making such a fuss about? Why does it consider it so important? Anybody who is unsure would do well to read at least the first chapter of the book, which serves as an introduction, and in fact is intended to be of use to the non-professional involved in development as well as to landscape professionals.

It defines LVIA as ‘a tool used to identify and assess the significance of the effects of change resulting from developments in both the landscape as an environmental resource in its own right and on people’s views and visual amenity.’

LVIA may be carried out formally as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or informally as a contribution to the design process, and to appraisal of development proposals and planning applications. The broad principles and the core of the approach are the same in each case.

EIAs have been required formally for certain types of development since 1985. Stemming from a European directive, the requirements of EIA are translated into domestic law in each member state. With devolution in the UK, the devolved legislation is leading to subtle differences in each area. While the practitioner must be aware of these differences in legislation, the principles of LVIA will remain the same. EIAs cover a range of topics, which can be summarised as covering the impacts on
— human beings, population
— flora and fauna
— soil, water, air, climate
— landscape
— cultural heritage (including architectural and archeological heritage)
— material assets.

Within the context of an EIA, LVIA, which is of course just one of the tools that is used, deals with effects on the landscape itself and on people’s visual amenity, as an aspect of effects on human beings, and also with possible inter-relationships of these with other related topics.

Where no EIA is required for a development, planning authorities may still ask for an LVIA as part of the appraisal process of a proposed development. While there will be no rigid requirement to follow the defined terms of an EIA, the required approach is likely to be broadly similar and the differences between a formal LVIA and one used for an ‘appraisal’ are explained in the guidelines.

Writing the guidelines

Carys Swanwick
Photographer: Helen Morris

It is hard to imagine anyone better equipped to write the GLVA3 book than Carys Swanwick, who has a background in both practice and academia and experience of wrestling with complex guidance projects.

arys Swanwick had a well-earned holiday after the completion of GLVIA3. The end result is one with which all parties are delighted but getting there was, as expected, a complex task that required detailed negotiations. It was a project that Swanwick’s experiences had led her to see was important. ‘My interest was partly because I teach LVIA to students and have views on the difficulty of explaining what can be a difficult and potentially dry subject,’ she said.

‘I also realised, from meeting graduates who had gone on to work in this area, that it can be difficult to develop the knowledge and skills on the job and that the guidance therefore plays an important role for those setting out in this area. I thought there was room for the current guidance to be updated, expanded in some areas and clarified in others and I thought my experience in writing guidance might be useful to the advisory panel.’

This guidance writing included being lead author on the ‘Landscape Character Assessment – Guidance for England and Scotland’ published in 2002, and more

recently her involvement with the Foresight Land Use Futures project where she was a member of the Lead Expert Group. This, she says, was ‘interesting but extremely challenging. There were great debates among the team about the critical issue of balancing the requirements for new housing and the need to protect the environment, including landscape.

‘It anticipated to a large degree the subsequent debate about the introduction of the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] and what I am most proud about is that those of us on the group with environmental interests stood up as robustly as we could to some of the more extreme arguments, primarily from economists, about the desirability of letting market forces have their way.’ Complex documentation and more complex negotiations are no strangers to Swanwick, and one could almost see her life and career as the ideal training for producing GLVIA3. She has been involved with landscape all her life, although she is not a landscape architect.

By training she is a biologist who then took a masters in ecological conservation. ‘I was born on a farm and spent much of my childhood in rural landscapes,’ she explains. ‘I loved the outdoors and was a fanatical bird watcher when I was young. My masters gave me an understanding of large-scale landscapes and of the land use pressures that influence them. For example, my dissertation was on the conservation of chalk grassland in Dorset – a vital feature of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In those days I probably wasn’t that aware of what landscape was but came to understand it more and more as I moved on into work with Land Use Consultants.’

She worked there for 23 years, broadening her interest from an initial focus on ecology and conservation to a much broader interest in landscape and environmental planning. By the end of her time she was a director. At the same time, Swanwick had met academics through the Landscape Research Group and had done some training for the Countryside Agency. She welcomed the possibility of combining her interests and experience, initially of doing some tutoring at Sheffield, although in the end circumstances prevented this. When the opportunity arose to apply to be professor and head of department, she took it.

When she was offered the job, ‘I actually took several months to make a decision as it was a real personal and professional wrench to leave LUC,’ Swanwick says. ‘I was also warned off academic life by a few people but in the end I decided to accept. There were the usual ups and downs along the way but I have never regretted the decision and found university life very rewarding and enjoyable, especially in watching students grow up and emerge into the profession.’

This was in 1995 and she held the post for 10 years, during which time, says the university’s website, ‘the department thrived under her strong leadership’. Only now is she in the process of retiring from the university, a step that she expected to take earlier and that would certainly have made the task of writing GLVIA3 considerably easier.

Swanwick has certainly not been buried in academe. The same website refers to her ‘mammoth contribution’ beyond the university and outside it. She has for instance taken part in landscape character assessment work in the Barnsley area and around York. Her time at Sheffield has evidently been happy and fulfilling. She has enjoyed the landscape of the Eastern Moors of the Peak District which are readily accessible from the western edge of the city where she has lived. She will be leaving this behind, but certainly not a working life.

Having finished GLVIA and had a holiday in Barbados to recover, Swanwick is raring to go. She has already become a member of the National Trust’s Board of Trustees which she describes as ‘very interesting and exciting and likely to be quite time consuming’. She has also agreed to work one day a week for energy and environmental consultancy SLR in Nottingham. She is also on the panel for the Research Excellence Framework which means that next year she will be reviewing the quality of research in built environment, planning and landscape. As she says, ‘I have plenty to keep me busy at the moment, on top of looking after our large garden and supporting Leicester Tigers!

Produced by the Landscape Institute and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).

Writer
Carys Swanwick

Publisher
Routledge, priced £49.99

Sponsors
English Heritage
Scottish Natural Heritage
Natural Resources Wales

Supporters
Environment Agency
Natural England
Advisory panel
Jeff Stevenson – chair
Julian Francis
Mary O’Connor
Mark Turnbull
Marc van Grieken

Join the conversation about GLVIA on Talking Landscape, the LI’s social network.

Leave a comment

We use cookies to improve the browsing experience for you and others. If you would like to learn more about cookies please view our cookie policy. To accept cookies continue browsing as normal. Continue