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NPPF2 and High Court Decision brings subtle shifts to landscape policy

The final version of the revised NPPF last month, together with the publication of a recent high court decision, have brought a few small, but interesting, changes to landscape policies.

These signal a shift towards a better general approach to land use planning and towards higher quality design and place-making. It also gives a little more clarity on the thorny issue of what a valued landscape is and the implications of this for sites in valued landscapes.

In general terms, landscape policies are broadly the same following revisions to the NPPF and the protection of designated landscapes remains a high priority. There is however more emphasis on improving the quality of landscape in the Green Belt, making it more accessible and providing more opportunities for sport and recreation. There is also a subtle change which requires new development to be accompanied by landscape proposals which are both ‘appropriate and effective’. (The previous version of the NPPF only required landscape proposals to be ‘appropriate’). This does not necessarily mean that development needs to be fully screened by landscape planting (although this may sometimes be the case), but rather, that development schemes need to be accompanied by landscape proposals which make a positive contribution to the appearance of the site. 

Another interesting, minor but significant, change relates to valued landscapes. Firstly, clarity is provided that although these should still be protected and enhanced (as set out in paragraph 170 a) and formerly by paragraph 109) this is not included within the list of restrictive policies identified in the new footnote 6 to paragraph 11 (formerly footnote 9 to paragraph 14). The only landscape policies included in this list are those relating to: an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park (or within the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast. Only in these landscapes can development be restricted even when there is a demonstrable need for housing. Finally, the NPPF is still silent on what constitutes a ‘valued landscapes’ (although case law has made it clear that these are not just designated landscapes); however the wording for paragraph 170a (formerly 109) has now been extended to say that they should be protected and enhanced in a manner commensurate with their statutory status or identified quality in the development plan’. This means that there is a hierarchy of value and protection afforded to landscapes with the greatest protection given to designated landscapes of national importance and a lesser level of protection to designated landscapes of regional or local importance. Landscapes which are valued but undesignated will therefore be at the lower end of this hierarchy.

Further clarification on valued landscape has been provided through a recent High Court judgment by Mr Justice Ouseley on the case between CEG Land Promotions and the Secretary of State regarding a site near Wendover. This decision makes it clear that sites should not be considered in isolation, but need to be considered in their wider landscape context, when evaluating whether they constitute part of a valued landscape. However, although this is useful clarification, it has not ended the debate over what is and is not a valued landscape. Instead, it seems likely that harm to a valued landscape (or to part of a valued landscape) will continue to be commonly used as a reason for refusal for proposed developments and will continue to be debated at length at appeal.

If you have any queries about how the revised NPPF impacts landscape policies, please contact Joanna Ede.

3 September 2018