Perspectives Landscape Planning

How can Landscape Architects support Local Authorities if the planning reforms set out in The Planning for the Future White Paper, published in August 2020, become a reality?

The Government's Planning for the Future White Paper was published for consultation in August 2020 and the Landscape Institute was among the professional bodies that provided a consultation response. Whilst there will be a variety of opinion on the White Paper proposals, Gillespies believe that Landscape Architects are well placed to support Local Authorities not just in meeting some of the key requirements of the proposed planning reforms, if they become a reality, but helping to ensure that a reformed planning system ‘must make land available in the right places and for the right form of development…. while at the same time protecting our unmatchable architectural heritage and natural environment[1]. As the Landscape Institute has iterated in their consultation response to the White Paper, planning should respond to the existing environment and work with natural assets.

Landscape Architects have the skills and knowledge to support Local Authorities in guiding development to the most appropriate locations, through objective assessment of landscape and visual sensitivity. This type of work is an essential part of baseline information for Local Authorities and should be undertaken in conjunction with the consideration of detailed environmental matters such as ecology, heritage, and flooding. While the White Paper proposal of simplifying Local Plans and identifying land in three categories; Growth, Renewal, and Protected is more complex than the three categories indicate, a baseline landscape and visual sensitivity study will assist Local Authorities to respond sustainably and appropriately to categorising land for development.

Gillespies specialise in landscape and visual sensitivity studies and have recently completed studies for North West Leicestershire and Telford and Wrekin following on from undertaking the award-winning Shropshire study. These studies considered the landscape around existing settlements to inform the selection of new housing and employment sites for allocation in Local Plans, and provided a robust evidence base to protect landscape character and visual amenity. Clear and precise mapping and data production is undertaken in GIS for these studies and supports the White Paper proposal that ‘Local Plans should be visual and map-based, standardised, based on the latest digital technology’[2].

Shropshire Landscape and Visual Sensitivity Study

The White paper proposes a new focus on design and sustainability, ‘expecting new development to be beautiful, and to create a ‘net gain’ not just ‘no net harm’, with a greater focus on ‘placemaking’ and ‘the creation of beautiful places’ within the National Planning Policy Framework[3]. Landscape Architects are uniquely placed to support Local Authorities in this expectation, working alongside planners and ecologists, being a profession that aims to protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environment for the public benefit. This is of even higher importance in light of Covid19, a stark reminder of communities needs for well-designed and accessible open space for all, which is climate-resilient and adaptable to social changes.

Gillespies work sets out to create inspirational spaces with a purpose: to make people’s lives measurably better.

A brand new community park in the heart of Elephant and Castle in London
New green spaces and connections at MediaCityUK in Salford
Swale planting as part of a site wide sustainable drainage network at The Helix, Newcastle

The White Paper also proposes that Local Plans will have a more focused role in ‘identifying site and area-specific requirements, alongside locally produced design codes[4]. Design codes are proposed to be prepared locally and based on community involvement. This work is an essential part of forming the rules for the design of a new development and Landscape Architects can take a central role in ensuring the design code responds to the existing local vernacular and landscape character while creating places that are connected, inclusive, durable and sustainable. This can be the basis of creating a richness of design and building a strong community that takes ownership of the place they live and work.

Gillespies has experience in producing design codes for small to large scale design and masterplanning projects. Alongside a multidisciplinary team, our recent work on the Barnsley West Masterplan Framework and Design Code set out the benchmark for quality and consistency of design in the public realm, open space, and streets to achieve consistency and connectivity across the development which was complementary to the existing suburban edge and landscape character. This code takes the lead in focusing on new parks, open spaces, and green/blue infrastructure as the structure of the proposed development.

If the proposals set out in the White Paper come to reality, whether in their full or an amended form, Gillespies believe that Landscape Architects can play a key role in the assessment and design of development right from the start of the development process. Our profession has the skills to ensure that development is located in the most appropriate location to begin with and, once appropriately located, develop the structure and ultimately the detail of how a new development can best function sustainably, respond to its context appropriately, protect and conserve existing assets, have a net environmental gain, and become a valued part of the landscape and urban fabric.


[1] Page 10, Planning for the Future, White Paper August 2020
[2] Page 20, ibid
[3] Page 21, ibid
[4] Page 20, ibid