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  Northamptonshire's Environmental Character Strategy

Environmental Character Strategy

The character assessments that form the core of the Environmental Character Strategy (ECS) provides planners, developers and communities with a descriptive and objective picture of the Northamptonshire landscape and will help to ensure that the qualities of the landscape that we cherish can be retained and enhanced for future generations.

A diversity of landscapes is evident across the county, each with their own distinctive visual, historic and ecological character.  Some are well known and evoke strong images such as Rockingham Forest and the Nene Valley, whereas others are less well known and have a more subtle, locally distinctive character.

The ECS documents ma and describe Northamptonshire's rich landscape resource, and through this, helps planers, dealers, landowners and the community, as well as visitors to the county, appreciated the varied landscape resource and ensure its long-term protection and enhancement.  In addition to detailed assessments of current landscape, biodiversity and historic landscape character, guidelines are presented to facilitate positive management into the future.

What is a Character Assessment?

Character assessment is a well established tool to inform a range of planning, management and design initiatives.  It provides an important evidence base on which decisions can be made concerning the physical environment.

Characterisation is the process by which area of distinctive character are classified, mapped and described, with character types and/or character areas identified.  Character types are distinct types of landscape that are generic in nature and may occur in different parts of the country, but wherever the occur they share a broadly similar combinations of diagnostic features.

By comparison, character areas are unique and geographically discrete, but share characteristics of the broader type to which they belong.

An important feature of the character assessment process is that it is objective; no judgement is made of a particular area's quality or value.  However, attention is given to identifying characteristics that are distinctive, rare or special, as well as the more commonplace.

The Northamptonshire Approach

The former Countryside Agency (now Natural England) has published best practice guidance for undertaking landscape character assessment in England and Scotland, which has been used to inform the unique process developed in Northamptonshire.

Traditionally, countrywide assessments comprise an overarching landscape character assessment, incorporating full time depth and biodiversity, albeit in a relatively superficial manner. They occasionally may refer to a separate assessment of historic landscape character, but again, the findings are summarised for incorporation into the overall landscape character assessment.

The Northamptonshire ECS, however, adopts a unique approach. It recognises that the physical environment is composed of a complex interplay of natural and cultural forces as well as out own perceptions and experiences. The approach, therefore, assesses the main strands of 'environment' independently.

In summary the Northamptonshire approach provides a detailed strategic understanding of the county in terms of its evolution, its modern visual and perceptual qualities, the character of its habitats and land cover and the physical bases on which variations in character are derived.

The Key Outputs

The findings are presented in three discrete but interrelated studies:

  • The Historic Landscape Character Assessment (HLCA)
  • The Current Landscape Character Assessment (CLCA)
  • The Biodiversity Character Assessment (BCA). These studies were informed by two supporting studies, which provide essential base line data
  • The Northamptonshire Physiographic study
  • The Northamptonshire Land Use Study

The individual studies and their methodologies were coordinated in parallel to ensure full compatibility, but developed independently to maintain their integrity.

The Environmental Character Assessment

The parallel assessments were drawn together to inform an overarching Environmental Character Assessment (ECA). This has provided a new classification of the character of the county at a national and regional scale, and provides an indicaton of key issues that the unique Northamptonshire faces in the coming decades.


Landmark and Signs - Doddington
Landmark and Signs - Doddington
[John Harper 2005]

Strategy and Guidelines

Strategies and guidelines, which support tghe environmental policies of the Core Spatial Strategies for north and west Northamptonshire, have been prepared for each of the three detailed character assessments to ensure the long-term protection and enhancement of the county's physical environment. The are designed to secure the positive enhancement of the cahracter of the environment through the provision of strategic guidance, with strategies to help direct appropriate change.

At the strategic scale, the ECS provides the basis for policies at a regional and sub regional scale of planning. These strategies will be incorporated into the hierachy of statutory documents from Regional Spatial Strategies through to Local Development Frameworks (LDFs).

Character related policy and guidance is designed to compliment, not replace, long established policies to protect areas, sites and building designated for their particular historic, archaeological or nature conservation value. However, character guidance and policies developed as part of the ECS are in many ways more powerful and effective than those specifically related to designations.

Whilst recognising the empirical importance of sites and features, they stipulate that the physical environment is important in its own right, and that its particular qualities and characteristics should be protected and enhanced regardless of whether or not some of all of it is protected by some form of designation. In this way, the decline in the quality of the entire physical environment can be halted and reversed and the quality of new devlopment in the county is raised.


Northamptonshire Environmental Chapter

In the NEC Section

Landmark & Signs Doddington
Landmark & Signs Doddington
[John Harper 2005]

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