Increasingly, Local Authorities are deciding that certain areas of ordinary countryside should be elevated to the status of ‘valued landscape’, even where there is no evidence base to suggest that the land in question has any particular qualities that would elevate its standing above that of ‘ordinary’ countryside.
This renewed enthusiasm for protecting the countryside stems from Paragraph 109 of the NPPF which has the aspiration of enhancing and protecting the natural environment by, amongst other things, protecting and enhancing valued landscapes.
The NPPF does not define a ‘valued landscape’ and so in reaching a conclusion on whether a landscape is valued, an element of judgement is required.
There are clearly a whole range of appeal decisions and judgements that have been reached on what constitutes a valued landscape, but it has now been established that the landscape must be above the ‘ordinary’ and not merely valued by local people.
The scope and definition of what constitutes a valued landscape was considered in Stroud District Council vs. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 488 (Admin) (‘Stroud Decision’).
Ouseley J held that the NPPF is clear in distinguishing ‘valued landscape’ from landscape which has a ‘designation’, and he considered that ‘valued’ meant something other than popular, such that landscape was only ‘valued’ if it had physical attributes which took it out of the ordinary. It reflects, to an extent at least, the Landscape Institute’s Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (‘the GLVIA3’), which also makes clear that an absence of designation does not necessarily mean an absence of landscape value.
Box 5.1 of GLVIA3 identifies a range of factors that can help in identifying valued landscapes. These include aspects such as rarity, tranquillity, recreation value and conservation interest.
The evaluation of a site’s value against the factors identified in Box 5.1 is undoubtedly a useful starting point for assessing landscape value but it is not definitive, not least because GLVIA3 post-dates the NPPF. Whatever methodology is used to assess the value of a site, it is important to clearly set out the factors that have been considered and to evaluate those against typical characteristics of the neighbouring countryside.
There is some considerable debate on whether a landscape can be considered a valued landscape where it does not, in itself, have any demonstrable features that would elevate it above ordinary countryside – but falls within or adjacent to an area that is recognised for its intrinsic landscape, such as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That was in fact what was attempted in relation to the Stroud case where reliance was placed on proximity to the AONB, views into and out of the AONB from the site itself, to give the site valued status beyond its ordinary countryside characteristics.
That does not mean that an assessment of a site’s value, and whether it is a valued landscape, involves ignoring the wider context. The wider context must be considered, but that does not affect the threshold requirement in Stroud, that the site itself must have some physical attributes to lift it out of ordinary countryside status as part of any judgment exercise. If the site has no such characteristics, it cannot obtain valued landscape status simply by drawing on the positive attributes of its surroundings.
In considering whether a landscape could potentially be considered a valued landscape it is not only important to look at the particular characteristics of the site in question but equally important to carry out a detailed review of local plan policies and the evidence that underpins them. For example, Aylesbury Vale’s emerging Local Plan relies in part on an evidence base that comprises a landscape assessment of the district. That assessment explains that the term ‘sensitive landscape’ used in the draft AVLP (page 220) means:
‘Sensitive landscapes’ is a term used in an evidence base prepared by Jacobs for the Council in 2008 called the ‘Areas of Sensitive Landscapes’ study. All landscapes in the district were surveyed. Six factors were used to determine what made an area sensitive. These were: scenic quality, rarity, representativeness (locally and regionally) and tranquillity. The Government uses the term ‘valued’ landscape as meaning important local landscapes that contribute to the quality of the natural and local environment. The valued landscapes for the district are the AVDLP designated ‘Areas of Attractive Landscape’ and ‘Local Landscape Areas’. These have had a review and criteria based assessment by LUC in 2015.’
AVDC and its consultants therefore gave specific thought to which of its landscapes should be treated as valued landscapes for the purposes of paragraph 109 of the NPPF.
As with all aspects of Landscape and Visual Assessments, by embarking on a process that is both rigorous and transparent and by looking at not only the site in question but also its surroundings and the evidential base behind the Local Plan, it is possible to provide an informed decision on whether a landscape is valued.
At CSA, we have the expertise and track record to do just that.