Planning Objections – visual and residential amenity

In the ever-evolving landscape of urban and rural development, the term “visual amenity” or “residential amenity” often surfaces, particularly when it comes to objecting to a planning application.

So what exactly is amenity and how does visual amenity differ from residential amenity? This blog post will explain it all – but the concept of amenity is not by any means a straightforward one!

You may remember the infamous case of the of the red-and-white striped house in London reported in the papers. A section 215 notice was served in respect of the painting of the house, requiring it to be repainted plain white. This was appealed to the magistrates court under section 217, who upheld the notice. In this Appeal, Judge Johnson held that “amenity” is a broad concept, not defined by the section.

Visual and Residential Amenity

The impact of development upon the amenity of neighbouring residents is one of the main issues to be assessed in the determination of planning applications and one of the most raised concerns in planning objections. This can cover both the visual amenity and residential amenity impacts of the development.

Visual amenity in planning objections

Visual amenity often covers its design, scale and massing in terms of the character of the surrounding area and use of materials. In planning terms ‘amenity’ is often used to refer to the quality or character of a property or area and elements that contribute to the overall enjoyment of a property or area. 

A useful document that establishes the main elements of existing visual amenity is for example a character assessment of a given area. A character assessment is a document that describes the distinct appearance and feel of a settlement or an area. It communicates the key physical features and characteristics that combine to give a particular settlement or an area its local distinctiveness and unique identity. This document, where available, might give you some good arguments you can use in you planning objection letter.

Residential amenity in planning objections

The residential amenity impact relates to the developments effect upon a neighbour’s outlook, privacy, sunlight/daylight and any noise and disruption likely to arise directly or indirectly as a result of the development.

Sometimes planning applications are required to submit a daylight and sunlight assessment. A daylight and sunlight assessment is a technical document that analyses the potential impact of a development upon the daylight, sunlight and overshadowing to be experienced by the surrounding properties, or it can also assess how much daylight and sunlight the proposed development will get. So this is one of the issues that might be important to research when considering your planning objection. Please read our other post on the issues around overshadowing for more detail on this particular impact.

Planning Context

Local Plans

Local Plans will usually have policies on character and design (visual amenity) and policies on residential amenity, which sometimes appear under “general development”. There might also be Special Planning Guidance Documents published by Local Planning Authorities that outline the issues and local requirements. All these will have to be analysed in detail if you are to make sure your planning objection is to be afforded weight.

National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. These are interdependent and need to be pursued in mutually supportive ways (so that opportunities can be taken to secure net gains across each of the different objectives). A social objective is to support strong, vibrant and healthy communities by, inter alia, fostering a well-designed and safe built environment.

Chapter 12 of the NPPF -Achieving well-designed places- sets out that the creation of high quality buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process achieve. Good Design is a key aspect of
sustainable development. This section states that being clear about design expectations and how these will be tested, is essential for achieving good design.

Paragraph 126 states that plans should set out a clear design vision and expectations, so that applicants have as much certainty as possible about what is likely to be acceptable. Paragraph 128 goes onto state that “to provide maximum certainty about design expectations at an early stage, plans or supplementary planning documents should use tools such as design guides and codes. These documents are also worth taking into account, where available.

Paragraph 130 of the NPPF sets out six criteria against which planning polices and decisions should meet to deliver well-designed places. This includes criteria (f) namely:
“create places that are safe, inclusive and accessible and which promote health and well-being, with a high standard of amenity for existing and future users; and where crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine the quality of life or community cohesion and resilience.”

Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) states that achieving good design “is about creating places, buildings, or places that work well for everyone, look good, and will adapt to the needs of future generations.”

Amenity when Objecting to a Planning Application

To summarise, the issue of visual amenity is far from trivial; it’s a vital aspect of community well-being and cultural preservation. When objecting to a planning application, arm yourself with specific concerns and reference local planning guidelines. By doing so, you don’t just become a naysayer; you become an advocate for thoughtful, respectful development that honours the visual amenity of your community.

And remember, your voice matters. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have on shaping the future visual landscape of your area. It’s not just about opposing what you don’t want, but about advocating for what you do want—a community that retains its unique visual character and identity amidst change.

Don’t sit back and let it happen without your input—take action and make your voice heard!

Contact Planning Voice today.