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Visual Impact Assessments

Any time a proposed development located in the public eye could cause significant effects on the aesthetic appearance of the surrounding landscape, a Visual Impact Assessment (VIA) would be needed to ensure that landscape character will not be disrupted in the eyes of individuals in the area.

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Everything you need to know about Visual Impact Assessments

Numerous factors act as crucial considerations in the planning process, including the concept of predicting the impact of a development before it has even started. Although a sometimes concerning and difficult part of planning, it is the duty of all developers to guarantee that necessary surveys on the site have been undertaken to ensure damage to the environment and local communities is identified and eliminated at all costs.

Of the potential affects caused by a proposed development project, a developer may need to take changes to the economy, flora and fauna, individual health, and society into consideration. Not only can this pose varying levels of difficulty, but also contextual interpretation that can put direct or indirect consequences of a project up for debate.

A troublesome feature to quantify on any site is the visual impact on the local landscape, judging what a quality landscape looks like, and determining if a planning project has any potential negative impacts on the landscape and visual appearance of the environment. It is possible to professionally analyse the potential visual impacts on a plot of land, however, through the use of a Visual Impact Assessment conducted by a licensed land surveyor.

What is a Visual Impact Assessment?

Also commonly referred to as a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA), a Visual Impact Assessment (VIA) is a survey on a development site that analyses the influence on the environment, breaking down each element of the site into separate component parts. A VIA is applicable on all developments that are expected to cause significant visual impacts on the countryside, and planning applications in a registered Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

A Visual Impact Assessment – or Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment – is also required on any planning projects that could fall within the characteristics of an Environmental Statement from The Town and Country Planning Regulations 2017. An example of this would be wind turbines, as the total height would exceed 15 metres, making it a new piece of infrastructure capable of impeding the visual appearance of the local environment.

What Does Visual Impact Mean?

In simple terms, a visual impact is an aesthetic change to the landscape following the completion of proposed development projects. For a change to be identified, the character, value and quality of the environment needs to be assessed before and predicted after the project to gauge whether a significant alteration will take place. Although it could be subjective and hard to determine whether individuals are valid claiming an impact to the landscape and visual appearance of the environment, the activity, location and nature of the landscape and project will function as the deciding factor.

As a result, context and the typical reaction of the average individual based on purpose and location play an important role in working out if visual impacts will be adversely affected. The level of sensitivity based on the reaction of individuals is typically determined as follows:

Low sensitivity – people engaged in outdoor sports, people in commercial buildings

Medium sensitivity – people using footpaths, people using road vehicles, people in upper storeys of residential properties

High sensitivity – people in principle rooms of residential properties, people visiting well-known beauty spots

Using the guidelines for landscape projects as detailed above, a land surveyor carrying out a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment would raise concerns over high sensitivity areas, potentially question medium sensitivity areas and likely waive issues in low sensitivity areas.

Visual Impact Assessment in Planning

When it comes to developments that could affect the local landscape and its visual appearance, local authorities may ask for assurances that there has been some level of consideration over the impact that could be caused, as well as alterations and limitations that could eliminate or reduce harm coming to the environment.

Changes to legislation that focus on the environment – such as the introduction of biodiversity net gain (BNG) within the Environment Bill 2021 – have displayed an intention for local councils to regulate planning projects and put restrictions in place until guarantees in the form of professional surveys and a level of visual impact analysis has been presented clearly to them.

Visual Impact Assessment for a Planning Application

If a planning project was proposed on an undeveloped plot of greenfield land in a high sensitivity area, it would be likely to raise the concerns of the planning department of the local council. An important purpose of a VIA is to demonstrate to the corresponding local planning authority that a visual assessment on the site has been conducted by a qualified surveyor, making the process of passing a planning application far simpler.

Prior to the project, the developer should first arrange a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment in order for a land surveyor to look over the site and offer comprehensive insights into the nature of the project. Following completion of the visual assessment, the land surveyor will produce an extensive report formed from details about the survey, information about the development site and recommendations that will allow the project to move forward, even if there are alarming reasons that would otherwise lead the local authority to reject an application for planning permission.

Based on the information detailed at length within the VIA report and any other key documents and survey reports provided to the local planning authority, there should be no reason but to grant a planning condition on the site, allowing the proposed development to move forward with planning consent from the local council.

Visual Impact Assessment Guidelines

In order for our surveys to be consistent, we insist on following strict requirements from the landscape resource of a responsible body. More specifically, our VIAs follow the landscape resource of Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment from the Landscape Institute (LI).

Within the guidelines of landscape surveys are a number of important factors for how a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment should be conducted, with one of the most crucial being that the Landscape Institute stand firm on the concept of solely qualified and experienced land surveyors undertaking assessments. Exceptions to this rule will only be made if professionals from other areas have the necessary training and expertise to conduct a Visual Impact Assessment with the same level of quality and insight.

Visual Impact Assessment Methodology

Through universal utilisation of the Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) surveys from the Landscape Institute, our land surveyors guarantee that the same process will be followed during every site visit for a VIA.

Under certain circumstances, we may be required to alter our approach in order to meet the specific needs of our clients or survey a plot of land that isn’t necessarily standard. However, any potential change to the process will only be initiated if it doesn’t harm the integrity of the visual assessment or contradict the requirements of any landscape resource we refer to.

Visual Impact Assessment Techniques

Looking at the general process of undertaking a Visual Impact Assessment, the survey is typically split into five core steps. Below, we have detailed each of these steps to explain exactly how one of our VIAs would play out on your development site:

1. Planning and Preparation –

  • Creating a list of locations that could act as viewpoints over the plot of land where the proposed development will take place.
  • Looking at existing databases as part of a desk study to retrieve information about the existing visual condition (EVC), visual absorption capability (VAC), visual sensitivity class (VSC) or equivalent, visual quality objective (VQO) and any other indicators of the landscape visual quality.
  • Record information about the visual sensitivity unit boundary and existing landscape alterations.
  • Speaking with the forest district office to determine any existing requirements involving trees on the development site.

2. Surveying the Site –

  • Attend the site using the most common method of transport used by the average traveller such as by boat on water, by vehicle on road or by foot in a pedestrianised area.
  • Determine how much of the planning project will be visible to travellers and work out how many are man-made and natural.
  • Take an extensive number of photographs of the development site before formatting and labelling them afterwards.

3. Preparing Visual Simulations –

  • Complete a land feature analysis, visual impact analysis and visual force analysis.
  • Following completion of the land feature analysis, visual impact analysis and visual force analysis, create appropriate design options that are effective for exhibiting the visual design of the site.
  • Format the data into a computer model, photographic manipulation and other design options to display multiple outcomes of how the completed development will look.
  • Work data from the survey into a topographic base map, with hand simulations and sight lines where necessary.

4. Analysing Visual Simulations –

  • Review visual simulations to ensure that the evidence will achieve the visual quality objective (VQO).
  • Submit proof that the development project meets the basic VQO and shows elements of good visual design.
  • Demonstrate the amount of preservation, retention, partial retention, modification and maximum modification of the plot of land using a numerical assessment of the development site.

5. Developing the VIA Report –

  • Create the Visual Impact Assessment Report.
  • Pass the completed VIA report to a colleague or senior member of staff for peer review.
  • Send the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment report to the client.

Visual Impact Assessment Report

After every Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, the land surveyor in charge of the survey will develop a comprehensive report. In the report are sections given to the data retrieved during the assessment, findings suggested by the surveyor, and information about the general nature of visual impacts and the VIA survey.

While every stage of the visual assessment process is important, the Visual Impact Assessment report is the most crucial component as it will contain the evidence needed to satisfy significant stakeholders. First and foremost, the report can be submitted to the planning department of the local planning authority to support an application for planning permission. Based on the extensive nature of the report, there should be no reason for the local authority to deny planning consent.

Visual Impact Assessment Example

A VIA report typically includes:

  • A topographic map at a 1:50,000 or larger scale including both existing and proposed blocks and roads in and around the area, established visual quality objective ratings, existing visual condition, viewpoint and photo point locations and numbers, visual absorption capability, visual sensitivity class, and visual sensitivity unit boundaries.
  • Colour photographs taken from important view points on the development site.
  • Visual simulations showing proposed operations on the development site.
  • A completed Visual Impact Assessment Summary form.

Depending on the site and project, a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment report may also need digital terrain model presentation criteria, digitally retouched photographs, sight-line plots from key view points, and a more in-depth form of visual force or visual impact analysis.

Visual Impact Assessment Consultants

The majority of proposed development projects based in public locations are likely to impede the landscape and visual effects in the eyes of nearby pedestrians, residents and travellers. Although certain significant effects on the landscape and visual impact may be completely unavoidable, it would be strongly advisable to gain guidelines for landscape planning projects, particularly if you need a survey before your local planning authority will grant planning permission.

After several years analysing the landscape and visual effects of developments across the UK, The Survey House guarantees a quality service in undertaking a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) on your site to benefit your proposed development. Through a combination of necessary qualifications and experience alongside an extensive knowledge of working under the advice of the Landscape Institute and within the guidelines for landscape and visual impact surveys, we are capable of coming to your site and determining the visual impacts of your project.

Visual Impact Assessment Quote

Every time a client enquires about the landscape and visual impacts services we provide, we take down details in regards to your site and project before offering a free quote that is completely bespoke to your needs. The main difference in price at this point will be determined by your own specifications, with larger sites likely to cost more and smaller sites likely to cost less, for instance.

For help with understanding the price guidelines for landscape surveys on your development site and the surrounding landscape, the advisable approach would be to speak to us directly. We can then create a bespoke quote for your site based on the size and specifications of the project, as well as any fundamental features that have an effect on landscape character. You will then receive a free quote and can decide whether you would like to move forward with the type of Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment we provide.

Book a Visual Impact Assessment

You may be fully aware that you need a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) / Visual Impact Assessment (VIA) on your development site, or you may be uncertain about the survey you need based on the nature of your project and the potentially significant effects it could have on the surrounding landscape. Either way, we would recommend speaking to The Survey House so we can give you helpful guidance and determine the most suitable form of assessment for you and your project.

Our topographical surveys and utility mapping assessments focus on all visible and invisible features on the site, and our measured building surveys, condition reports and 3D surveys break down the measurements and quality of existing infrastructure. Meanwhile, our guidelines for landscape visual impacts in the form of a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment offer insight into the landscape character and visual effects that a planning project could cause to nearby people. The main difference with us compared to other survey providers is that we offer multiple services to clients and show evidence of specialism in all of them.

To obtain information on the significant effects your project could have on the landscape character in the area and the landscape and visual effects it could have on the site and surrounding areas, simply provide us with your contact details and information about your project and site, and we can send you a tailored quote. You can do this by visiting our contact page, filling out the quote box above or calling us directly via the number at the top of this page.

Common Questions

Although the titles 'Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA)' and 'Visual Impact Assessment (VIA)' are often used to mean the same form of survey, there has been known to be a slight difference between the meaning behind the two terms. The main difference between the two forms of assessment is the level of detail in the eyes of the professional conducting the survey. While a Visual Impact Assessment can be a broader survey, in a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, it is important that the land surveyor identifies significant effects on the site as well as the duration, geographic extent, nature and type of visual effects, as stated in the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2017.
Elements included within a Landscape Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) include: - Details of the existing visual quality in the landscape and the surrounding area. - Evidence of visual impacts that could occur as a result of the development. - Information on the expected effects on landscape character and landscape visual value caused by the planning project. - Photo simulations and other visualisations that display the proposed project and alternatives that would benefit the landscape and visual appearance of the site. - Recommended measures designed to avoid, minimise or mitigate significant visual impacts of the project. - Records of the general public's reaction to the proposed change.
A Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment would be needed on any development projects that could infringe on the landscape character of the affected area, as well as any developments situated in a registered Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). As such, following the necessary guidelines for landscape and visual impacts in the form of an Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment will ensure that you are operating within the rules. The alternative would be to disregard the planning requirement, breach UK law and result with a hefty fine, delays or entire breakdown of your planning project. As previously mentioned, arranging a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment will also play a pivotal role in gaining planning permission, with the report indicating current and future landscape character to your local planning authority.

Visual Impact Assessments Done
in 3 Simple Steps

We know that you want your Visual Impact Assessments done quickly and efficiently to avoid delays and to help your project run smoothly. Our simple process makes everything hassle free and straight forward.

  • Give us a call or fill in our quick onlne quote form to tell us about the project you need a survey for.
  • We will put a quote together based on the information you give us and we’ll get in touch via phone or email if we need any more information.
  • You'll get your free, no-obligation quote via email. If you are happy with the quote, simply let us know and we will book in a conveinient date to do your survey. Finally, we’ll send your report a few days after the survey.
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