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New guidance issued: No ‘right to a view’ but some rights to visual amenity

New technical guidance on Residential Visual Amenity Assessment (RVAA) has recently been published by the Landscape Institute (LI)[1]. Joanna Ede, Head of Landscape and VIA at Turley provides an overview of this and how and when it should be undertaken.

In most cases the potential impacts of a proposed development on private views is not a planning consideration. Private individuals do not have a right to a view[2] and even if a new development significantly changes a view from a private property, this is not normally a legal ground on which planning approval can be refused. In the planning process, consideration of visual impacts of a proposed development is usually restricted to potential impacts on public visual amenity or in heritage contexts the impact upon heritage significance (where notably the absence of public access to a viewpoint is not a material consideration).

However, impacts on views from publicly accessible viewpoints are assessed as part of the landscape/townscape and visual impact assessment (LVIA/TVIA) process. The exception to this approach is when a visual impact on a private property is so severe that it may affect the residential amenity of a dwelling. It is considered in the same way as other factors which affect residential amenity such as daylight levels, noise, air quality etc. All of these have the potential to be compromised by a development to such an extent that the impact on residential amenity would be unacceptable and planning permission can be refused.

Residential Visual Amenity Assessment (RVAA) is the process by which the potential visual impact of a development on the residential amenity of a private property can be objectively assessed. It is based on the principles and process established in ‘Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment’ (GLVIA3)[3] and draws on principles established in assessments undertaken for wind farm developments and judgements made about these in Planning Appeals by planning inspectors. A key decision in this was the Burnthouse Farm windfarm inquiry[4] in which Inspector Jill Kingaby stated in her report that: “No individual has the right to a particular view but there comes a point when, by virtue of the proximity, size and scale of a given development, a residential property would be rendered so unattractive a place to live that planning permission should be refused. The test of what would be unacceptably unattractive should be an objective test.”

The new technical guidance note published by the LI identifies current best practice in undertaking this objective test. It is aimed at landscape professionals to be used as an additional stage in the LVIA/TVIA process and it sets out a structured methodology. The approach provides a framework for assessing whether the nature or magnitude of a visual effect is so great that it could affect the ‘living conditions’ or ‘Residential Amenity’ of a property. The guidance refers to this as the Residential Visual Amenity Threshold. Factors that contribute to this judgement include whether a development is ‘overwhelming in views in all directions’, ‘inescapably dominant’ or ‘unpleasantly encroaching’. If the threshold is reached it then becomes a matter of relevance to the ‘Residential Amenity’ of the property and therefore a matter for consideration in the planning process.

Whilst RVAA is most frequently used in relation to wind turbine developments, its application to development in urban areas is also becoming increasingly common as developments become taller and denser. At Turley we recently prepared an RVAA to support a planning application for a nine storey commercial development which was relatively close to some existing flats. The RVAA was produced as an addendum to the TVIA which we also prepared to accompany the planning application. It demonstrated that the development was visible in views from only one or two windows in some of the flats, none of these windows were the principal living space in the flat and in no instance would the visual impact be so great that it would make the property ‘an unattractive place to live’. It was therefore concluded that the Residential Visual Amenity Threshold was not met and that the residential amenity of the properties would not be affected.

The new guidance is a welcome addition to the guidance already provided in GLVIA3. It is likely to help both developers and decision makers, giving greater clarity on when impacts on views from private properties might be a planning consideration and when they are not.

Please get in touch with Joanna Ede if you would like to know more about the LVIA and RVAA work that we undertake at Turley.

3 April 2019

[1] Residential Visual Amenity Assessment (RVAA) Technical Guidance Note 2/19 Landscape Institute, March 2019.

[2] Established in 1610 by Aldred’s Case.

[3] Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment 3rd edition 2013 Landscape Institute and IEMA.

[4] Burnthouse Farm Windfarm, SoS Decision (APP/D0515/A/10/2123739) 6th July 2011.