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LCA Topic Paper 6 Summary Sheet

'Techniques and criteria for judging capacity and sensitivity'

Topic Paper 6 published by the Countryside Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage, January 2004

Author: Carys Swanwick, The University of Sheffield

This summary sheet produced September 2006

Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) is being widely employed as a tool to help guide decisions about the allocation and management of land for different types of development in both England and Scotland, and particularly to contribute to sensitivity and capacity studies. Topic Paper 6 provides an overview of current thinking about landscape sensitivity and capacity, both in concept and theory. It does not aim to provide a definitive method for assessing either sensitivity or capacity, rather it sets out key principles, clarifies issues, defines key terms and provides examples of current approaches.

The paper argues that although the terms sensitivity and capacity have been used interchangeably in the past, they are not the same and are not necessarily directly related. Regarding the former, the paper distinguishes between those studies which assess overall landscape sensitivity and those which assess sensitivity to a specific external pressure. Capacity is defined as being concerned with the amount of change or pressure that can be accommodated: it has a quantitative dimension and it needs to reflect the idea of limits to acceptable change. The paper highlights the debate on the role of landscape value within assessments of capacity, also whether or not visual aspects should be considered a contributor to sensitivity, capacity or both.

Case studies are included to illustrate the process of making judgements about overall landscape sensitivity, sensitivity to a specific type of change and landscape capacity. In order to progress from a sensitivity study to a capacity study, attention needs to be given to experiential and perceptual aspects of the landscape, and value attributed to the landscape, either through designation, an approach like Quality of Life Assessment or stakeholder engagement.

The paper describes principles for recording and presenting information relating to assessments of capacity and sensitivity, and makes suggestions as to how layers of information can be combined, using a GIS, to arrive at a final assessment. An outline of key issues arising from current practice is provided, underlining the importance of transparency and accessibility for any outputs of sensitivity and capacity studies. It ends by giving an overview of the continuing debates and questions surrounding the assessment of sensitivity and capacity.

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