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A changing perspective on London’s protected views

The Draft New London Plan puts a greater onus on London boroughs to protect key views across the capital in addition to those already protected under the London View Management Framework (LVMF).

We look here at how policy has evolved to protect the defining views of London and what this means for the planning and development process.

Historical context

The first protected view in the UK was the view from Richmond Hill, which was passed as an Act of Parliament in 1902, following a campaign by local people against development in the area. To this day, this is the only view in the UK that is protected by an Act of Parliament.

Following this, during the early half of the 20th Century, pressure from developers to build taller buildings in central London brought about the 1938 City of London Corporation ‘protected views’ system known as ‘St Paul’s Heights’ which allowed controlled construction that did not obscure views of St Paul’s Cathedral. Eight ‘protected view corridors’ were identified and implemented in 1938 as a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the City Corporation and developers.  Similar rules protecting The Tower of London and Thames river vistas were implemented later in the 20th century.

In 1976, for the first time, selected views were protected by planning policy as part of the Greater London Development Plan.  

London Plan and current LVMF Supplementary Planning Guidance

Today, planning policy to protect specific strategic views in London is set out in the current London Plan . In this, Policy 7.11 and 7.12 require the London Mayor to designate a list of strategic views which will be kept under review. These views are seen from places that are publicly accessible and well used. The policy requires new development not to harm, and where possible make a positive contribution, to the characteristics and composition of strategic views and their landmark elements.

To accompany the London Plan, the 2012 London Views Management Framework Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) was produced which explains in greater detail the policy approach and allows boroughs, applicants and other statutory authorities to assess a proposal’s compliance with the London Plan.  The LVMF contains 27 Designated Views of which 13 are Protected Vistas. Protected Vistas are those which are directed towards a Strategically Important Landmark (St Pauls, The Palace of Westminster or the Tower of London). On 30 November 2018, the Mayor extended the background areas of these 13 Protected Vistas, and asked every LPA in London to consult the Mayor where buildings are proposed within these extended areas.

Applications for development within Designated Views that will significantly impact on, or be contrary to the management principles of the SPG, will require the boroughs affected by the proposal and relevant Government agencies to be consulted. Consultation is more onerous where the development exceeds the threshold height of the Protected Vista. When this is proposed, applications must be sent to the Mayor and the affected London boroughs and Government agencies should also be consulted.

Interestingly, despite the high level of protection which policy 7.11 and 7.12 give to the identified views, in many cases this has not prevented the permission of new development in these view corridors. For example, a recent application in 2018 by Cubitt Property Holdings Ltd for a 49 storey development on the Isle of Dogs was initially refused by LB Tower Hamlets due to its excessive scale and height within its local context. The council was particularly concerned about the impact of the proposal on the view from Greenwich Park (LVMF, London Panorama 5). However the decision was appealed and the inspector ruled in favour of the development, stating that the proposal would have no impact on the ability to appreciate the view (due to the existing presence of many other tall buildings within the view) and would make a positive contribution to the panorama, by adding variety and interest to the skyline (Appeal Ref: APP/E5900/W/17/3190531, Inquiry 10/10/18).

Draft New London Plan – emerging trends

The Draft New London Plan is due to begin Examination in Public (EIP) on the 15 January 2019. Within this, the protection of strategic views identified in LVMF is retained. However, the biggest change is the increased importance of local borough level views. The existing London Plan states:

‘Boroughs should reflect the principles of this policy [Policy 7.12] and include all designated views, including the protected vistas, into their Local Development Frameworks. Boroughs may also wish to use the principles of this policy for the designation and management of local views’

In comparison the Draft New London Plan states:

‘Clearly identifying important local views in Local Plans and strategies enables the effective management of development in and around the views. Where this has been done, these local views should be given the same degree of protection as Strategic Views.’

This is a step change in policy weighting, which could give increased significance to local views and more power to local authorities to protect them. It potentially places significant restrictions to new development (particularly tall buildings) within these local view corridors and runs counter to other policies within the Draft New London Plan which seek to encourage high density development. We wait with interest to see how this policy is considered by the inspector at the EIP and whether it is adopted in full. If adopted, it will bring a requirement for  greater and wider consultation, which could include multiple affected authorities, depending on the scale of development.

In the meantime, we are increasingly finding that borough level views are becoming an important part of LPA policy and decision-making; 11 of the 13 inner London boroughs have specific views designated within policy and many of the outer London boroughs have emerging policies for the protection of identified local views.

Impact of view protection on development planning

It is clear that view protection will continue to be an important element in planning policy both as part of strategic London planning but also at a local borough level. This has the potential to affect future development proposals and, whilst not necessarily precluding new development within the identified view corridors, the potential effect of development on these views will need to be considered at an early stage in the design process.

Our team provides specialist advice and robust technical assessment of potential townscape (and where relevant landscape) and visual effects arising from development proposals, alongside guidance on potential mitigation measures in order to shape the creation of successful developments. We have working knowledge of city wide and borough level protected views and can provide early support at feasibility stage to de-risk developments in relation to protected views. We can also assess the visual impact of proposals on heritage setting and significance where these elements are key considerations in the wider townscape context.

The EIP for the New London Plan is due to run from 15 January. We will provide an update on the outcome of this examination process and the likely consequences on the New London Plan, strategic view policies in the coming months.

10 January 2019