First Winner of MBELC Student Prize for Excellence in Landscape Planning


Michelle and John were delighted to select Yalan Xu as the first winner of a new landscape planning prize sponsored by MBELC. The prize was presented at The University of Sheffield’s Landscape Architecture Exhibition on 7 June 2019.

The prize is open to students on the MLA and MA Postgraduate Diploma courses and is awarded to the student who demonstrates the most robust reasoning through the use of appropriate landscape planning methods for the selection of their Special Project stage two site and / or the design response to their stage two site’s context.

Yalan Xu was awarded the prize for her project titled ‘Magnetic City’ which focused on the regeneration of the River Aire corridor in Leeds.

For more information and photographs of the exhibition please visit the Landscape Department’s Facebook Page here.

Inspector recommends removal of proposed policy for new settlement in Hart Local Plan

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Our client, Winchfield Parish Council (WPC), are delighted that a new settlement policy has been recommended for removal from the proposed Hart Local Plan. This follows evidence commissioned by WPC and prepared by MBELC and JB Planning regarding the unsuitability of the location for the new settlement.

In March 2018, MBELC prepared a report on behalf of WPC which addressed the landscape constraints to the ‘area of search’ (AoS) for a new settlement identified in the proposed Hart Local Plan (Draft Policy SS3). [Read more about this project here] .  In November 2018 Michelle Bolger gave evidence on the unsuitability of the location at the Local Plan Examination hearing session.

The hearing sessions finished in December 2018 and last week the Inspector advised the Council about the further steps or main modifications that he considers are necessary for the Plan to be made legally compliant and/or sound.  [The Inspector’s advice is set out in a letter, dated February 2019, which can be accessed here].

In his letter the Inspector reiterates a number of concerns that were raised in our report and through our attendance at the relevant hearing session. With regards to Policy SS3 he concludes that: ‘…Policy SS3 is not required for the Plan to be sound and, in light of my comments above, I consider that the most appropriate course of action would be to remove it… from the Plan through Main Modifications(MMs). This would allow the Plan to progress towards adoption without any significant delay to the examination process’. [37]

The Inspector reaches his conclusion based on ‘a number of fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3’. [18] His concerns include that there is: 

  • Insufficient evidence to support the ranking of the AoS within the Council’s Post Submission Interim Sustainability Appraisal Report (Post Submission SAR) [31];

  • A lack of detailed assessments to support the Post Submission SAR’s findings on specific matters such as heritage [23];

  • Insufficient evidence to allow a suitably robust comparison of reasonable alternatives to be undertaken [31];

  • ‘Inconsistent assumptions’ applied in relation to the appraisal of the AoS when compared against alternatives in the Post Submission SAR [31]; and 

  • Little evidence to demonstrate that a new settlement could actually be delivered within the AoS [33]. 

In explaining these concerns, the Inspector agrees with the key issues identified in our report, including:

  • The highly constrained nature of the AoS (by its landscape sensitivity, biodiversity features, areas of ancient woodland, heritage assets, the M3 motorway, the railway line, etc.) [26] which were not adequately addressed by the site promotors; and

  • The inability to deliver a new settlement due to land ownership, specifically, the large parcel in the middle of the AoS which is unavailable to the site promoters. [34]

Overall, the Inspector’s advice is clear. Where new settlements are proposed, robust evidence should demonstrate why a new settlement is the most appropriate growth strategy for the Local Plan, and this evidence should robustly consider its deliverability and reasonable alternatives. As highlighted by our work, and agreed by the Inspector, this has not occurred in the case of Policy SS3.

Another successful outcome for our latest inquiry for South Oxfordshire DC


An appeal against South Oxfordshire District Council’s decision to refuse outline planning permission for 40 dwellings on land at Watlington Road, Lewknor has been dismissed. This decision follows a public inquiry at which Michelle Bolger presented evidence on behalf of SODC.

Although principally decided on planning issues, the Inspector came to a very clear conclusion with regard to Valued Landscape under the new NPPF. He states that ‘It would be wrong in my view to conclude that a landscape cannot be considered as valued simply because it was not identified in a development plan formulated at a time when no such requirement existed.’ This approach, if accepted by other inspectors, should usefully shorten cross examination on this topic. In this case he concluded that the landscape in question was not a valued landscape but found there would be unacceptable landscape and visual harm to the settlement pattern and setting of Lewknor. 

Paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF was not engaged in this case. The Inspector found that the relevant development plan polices were broadly consistent with the Framework and were therefore not out-of-date.  

Appeal ref 3200335. A copy of the full decision can be downloaded here.

Balancing Energy Needs with Landscape Protection: Recent Decisions by Welsh and Scottish Ministers

Two recent decisions by Welsh and Scottish Ministers have shown how differently the devolved nations are choosing to balance Energy Needs with Landscape Protection.  Michelle Bolger provided expert landscape evidence on behalf of local groups for both inquiries and at both inquiries the Inspectors in their reports to government, agreed that the developments would result in significant landscape harm. 

For the Scottish appeal at West Garty the Minister accepted that this was sufficient to outweigh the benefits of renewable energy.  For the Welsh appeal, despite significant landscape harm and significant harm to a series of Scheduled Ancient Monuments the Minister concluded that it was all outweighed by the benefits of renewable energy.

West Garty Wind Farm

The first inquiry concerned an application for 17 wind turbines (110m max tip height) on a series of upland ridges between the settlements of Brora and Helmsdale. The site was within a Special Landscape Area in the Highlands. The application was determined by Scottish Minister as it would have generated over 50 megawatts (MW).

Karen Heywood, the Reporter who presided over the inquiry agreed with our evidence and found that ‘the proposed development does not comply with the development plan due to its significant detrimental landscape and visual impacts’ and ‘national planning policy does not support the scheme because is not the right development in the right place’ (7.10).

The Scottish Minister adopted the reasoning and conclusions of the Reporter’s findings and refused the application. In this case, the cost to the landscape was deemed too great despite the potential benefits of a high generating capacity.

Hendy Wind Farm

The second inquiry concerned an application for 7 wind turbines (110m max tip height) within a ‘bowl’ defined in part by the distinctive Llandegley Rocks in Powys. The site was outside of a Strategic Search Area for wind farms. In such areas TAN 8 in Welsh planning policy suggests that a balance should be struck between the desirability of renewable energy and landscape protection. The appeal was recovered for determination by the Welsh Minister as it involved a Development of National Significance (generating over 10 MW).

Hywel Wyn Jones, the Inspector, agreed with our evidence and found that: ‘the extent of harm to the landscape and historic assets leads me to conclude that the scheme fails to strike an appropriate balance between promoting renewable energy projects and protecting these interests as sought by national policy. It follows that, when taken together, the combined harm to landscape and heritage matters significantly outweigh the identified benefits’. (409)

However, the Welsh Minister disagreed with the Inspector and chose to allow the appeal. In this case although the potential generating capacity was much lower than West Garty, the cost of significant landscape harm was not deemed to be high enough. Primarily - as is suggested by the Minister’s decision - because that harm did not involve a nationally designated landscape: ‘I note the site does is not located within a nationally designated landscape and the proposal would not impact on any national landscape designation. In this context, I consider the benefits of the proposal in terms of delivering renewable energy are material considerations which are sufficient to outweigh the identified impacts of the scheme on landscape and visual amenity and the balance, therefore, weighs in favour of the appeal’ (63 and 64). 

It is also notable that the Inspector concluded that the development would cause significant (and in one case substantial) harm to the significance of four Scheduled Ancient Monuments but the Minister concluded that “in this case, the need for development which produces renewable energy outweighs” all the identified harm.

A visualisation of the proposed wind farm, prepared by MBELC

A visualisation of the proposed wind farm, prepared by MBELC

Michelle Bolger to speak at the Landscape Institute's 'Valuing Landscape' Conference in September


Michelle will be one of three speakers who will be discussing their experiences of how GLVIA3, Inspectors and the Secretary of State have helped to shape the interpretation of  ‘valued landscape' in the NPPF. This will form part of an interactive workshop on how the relevant policy in the new NPPF is likely to be applied in practice – and will give attendees the opportunity to add to the discussion about what still needs to change.

The other speakers are:

  • Peter Radmall, Environmental Planning Consultant
  • Dr Ashley Bowes, Cornerstone Barristers

The workshop will be facilitated by:

  • Rebecca Knight, Director of Landscape Planning, LUC

We hope to see you there on the 7th September!


Kennylands Road, Sonning Common, Oxfordshire (appeal ref: 3183391)

Bayley Gate Farm, Cranfield, Bedfordshire (appeal ref: 3190779)

Two recent appeals against decisions by South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) and Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC)) to refuse planning permission have been dismissed following public inquiries. MBELC provided expert evidence at both inquiries and successfully defended the landscape reasons for refusal.

Both decisions were by Inspector, Kenneth Stone.  Although the ‘tilted balance’ was applied (a presumption in favour of sustainable development – as per para 14 of the 2012 NPPF) the harm to the landscape was, in both cases, considered to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole.   The tilted balance was engaged as some relevant development plan policies were found to be out-of-date in both cases.   

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common (appeal ref: 3183391)


The first appeal was made by Gallagher Estates. It concerned SODC’s refusal to grant permission for up to 95 dwellings on land off Kennylands Road in Sonning Common.  

The appeal site is located on the south-western edge of the village, adjacent to the Chilterns AONB. The Inspector found that the site and its surrounding area demonstrated many of the attributes of the local landscape character type and some of the special qualities of the AONB. Such attributes led the Inspector to agree with Michelle Bolger’s evidence that the site is part of an NPPF para 109 valued landscape because it 'fulfils an important function in maintaining the rural setting of Sonning Common and the setting of the built-up area in the wider landscape, including with the AONB.' 

With respect to the proposed development the Inspector concluded that 'The site forms an important landscape and visual element in the locality and there is harm to it. It adds positively to the setting of the village in the countryside. It assists in the separation of the settlement from the Chilterns AONB boundary. Moreover, it is an attractive area of countryside in association with the wider countryside to the south, not in the designated Chilterns AONB. The harm would be material and significant. There would be an adverse effect on the Chilterns AONB, in that the views from within and immediately to the west beyond the woods would be of a more urbanised settlement edge closer to the AONB. These are views from within the AONB.'

Of particular importance to the inquiry was the Sonning Common Neighbourhood Development Plan (SCNDP). The SCNDP is a recently made plan (October 2016) which sets out how many new homes should be built within the village and where. A small part of the appeal site included an allocation for 26 homes. However, the appeal site as a whole was not allocated and the development did not constitute infill – the proposed development was therefore in conflict with the housing and allocation policies of the SCNDP.  

Both parties agreed that the Council could not demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply (4.1 was agreed) and therefore housing policies in SODC's Core Strategy were out of date.   However, polices for the policies for housing supply in the SCNDP were not to be considered out of date because SODC could demonstrate a 3-year supply of deliverable housing sites as established in the Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) on neighbourhood planning (December 2016).   

Applying a tilted balance the Inspector found that the harm from conflicting with the SCNDP  and the harm to the character and appearance of the area, including the setting of the AONB and Sonning Common, and a valued landscape, would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the scheme when assessed against the NPPF, taken as a whole.

A copy of the full decision for Sonning Common can be downloaded here.


Bayley Gate Farm, Cranfield (appeal ref: 3190779)


This appeal concerned CBC’s decision to refuse an application for up to 300 dwellings on land at Bayley Gate Farm, College Road, Cranfield. The appeal was made by Gladman Developments Limited and the Kinns Family.

All parties agrees that the site, which is located on farmland bounded in part by Cranfield University and the Milton Keynes Boundary Walk, was not part of a valued landscape for the purposes of para 109 of the 2012 NPPF.  However, as the Inspector noted this 'does not mean that it has no value and although it may not be rare or have significant conservation interest or have any known associations it is very representative of the wider landscape, has a pleasant and attractive scenic quality and is in good condition. Its arable nature, strong boundary hedge and tree treatment ensure that it, along with the surrounding fields, narrow country lanes, bridleway and public rights of way create a strong rural character.'  The Inspector agreed with Michelle that existing development at Cranfield University does not have a strong visible or urbanising presence over the site – contrary to the appellant’s position.

The Inspector found that the structural planting proposed by the appellant would ‘do little to ameliorate and integrate the significant residential neighbourhood that would be created into the wider landscape’ and that any structural planting alongside the MKBW could not remove views of the development if the proposed planting were to be in-keeping with the character of the area.

Unlike the Sonning Common appeal above, the Council could demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply. However, the tilted balance was still engaged as a policy relevant to housing distribution (Policy CS5) was found to be out of date.

Due to the ‘substantial harm to the landscape character of the area and visual amenity and appearance of the locality’ and the finding that the site was not sustainably located and would not provide access to facilities meeting the day to day needs of future residents the impacts of granting permission were found to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole.  The appeal was dismissed.

A copy of the full decision for Bayley Gate Farm can be downloaded here

These dismissals mark seven consecutive appeals at which MBELC have successfully defended the Local Authority’s landscape reason for refusal at inquiry.



An appeal against South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC) decision to refuse outline planning permission for up to 135 residential dwellings on land east of Park Road, Didcot has been dismissed. This decision follows a public inquiry at which Michelle Bolger presented evidence on behalf of SODC.

Integral to our evidence was that the site forms an essential part of a valued landscape with respect to NPPF paragraph 109. With reference to the East Hagbourne decision (Appeal Ref: 3153639) Michelle argued that it is not necessary for a site to achieve a ‘high’ value on all of the criteria identified in GLVIA Box 5.1 in order to be considered as a valued landscape. Particularly significant defining qualities are sufficient and ‘some of this value arises as a consequence of the site’s location’ (Para 28, Appeal Decision Ref: 3153639).

Our justification for the site being part of a valued landscape comprised:

  • Its location within an area that provides an unspoilt pastoral edge to Didcot; 
  • Its scenic value by virtue of the attractive views and visual links to the open countryside, including towards an AONB;
  • Its integral role within the Coscote Fields Local CA which provides separation between Didcot and the historic settlement of Coscote;
  • Its integral role within the rural landscape that provides a setting to the North Wessex Downs AONB and a buffer between the AONB and the urban area of Didcot; and
  • The presence of ridge and furrow within and around the site, which was identified as making a significant contribution to the conservation interest of the area.

The inspector agreed with Michelle that ‘It is not necessary for a landscape to rank highly against all criteria to be considered to be valued’ (para 40). He found that the scenic qualities of the site were high and specifically referenced the quality which exists as a result of the ‘sharp contrast between the urban nature of Didcot and the rural nature of the fields’ (para 36). He agreed with Michelle that ‘the area should be considered to be a valued landscape for the purposes of paragraph 109 of the Framework’ (para 40). 

The Inspector concluded that harm to the setting of the AONB, even limited harm, engaged paragraph 115 of the NPPF and Consequently, the last bullet point in paragraph 14 of the Framework is engaged and consequently the normal, rather than the tilted, balance would apply.

Overall the inspector found that ‘the proposal would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area and would not protect, and therefore not enhance, a valued landscape’ and in doing so would be contrary to:

  • Policy CSEN1 of the CS which requires that the district’s distinct landscape features will be protected against inappropriate development and where possible enhanced.
  • Policies D1, G2 and C4 of the LP as set out above and which require that the district’s countryside and settlements will be protected from adverse developments, and that development which would damage the attractive landscape setting of settlements will not be permitted.
  • paragraphs 17, 109 and 115 of the Framework which seek to recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, to protect and enhance valued landscapes and conserve landscape and scenic beauty in AONBs’. (para 47)

The inspector also found that South Oxfordshire DC now has a 5 year housing land supply.

The dismissal marks the fifth consecutive appeal at which MBELC have successfully defended the Local Authority’s landscape reason for refusal at an inquiry.

A copy of the full decision can be downloaded here.



An appeal against South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC) decision to refuse outline planning permission for 60 new dwellings on land south of the High Street, Tetsworth has been dismissed. This decision follows a public inquiry at which Michelle Bolger presented evidence on behalf of SODC.

A key issue in the case concerned the impact of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area. Michelle’s evidence on this matter included a detailed account of the proposal’s harm to the development pattern of the village and the visual amenity of PRoW users.

The Inspector agreed with SODC’s landscape evidence on a number of matters and found overall that the proposal would be:

…significantly and demonstrably harmful to the character and appearance of the area, with particular harm to those undertaking recreation on the public rights of way network, to the outlook of local residents and would be out of keeping with the pattern of development in the village’.   

(Paragraph 96, Appeal Decision, Appeal Ref: APP/Q3115/W/3182192)

A copy of the full decision can be downloaded here