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True views: The power of verified views

‘Verified views’ impartially represent proposed developments as they would be expected to appear in reality. They are especially useful for planners, say Alison Carroll and Chris Hale of Nicholas Pearson Associates.

This article first appeared as advertiser content in the January 2017 issue of The Planner.

One only has to read a planning appeal to understand how the planning system seeks, and often struggles, to balance the visual effect of development with its other impacts – good and bad. 

Visual appearance is so often the point of contention in discussion about new development. Achieving an image of a proposed development that is agreed to be realistic is an important aid for people considering its merits. 

Not everyone is able to interpret the plans, sections and elevations that illustrate the technical aspects of development. 

Images that show a proposal accurately within its setting, however, can greatly assist interpretation by both professionals and laypeople. Designers can also benefit from an accurate visualisation of development at an early stage in the process because it can help with the definition of appropriate development parameters, such as height and massing, and selection of materials.

But how do you get an image that is credible and trustworthy, that is as close as it is possible to get to what it will actually look like in real life?

Real-world imagery

Technology is giving built environment professionals a variety of visualisation tools, and some are extremely exciting. 

3D printing and virtual reality, for example, could transform public engagement with consultation. Most organisations, however, rely on static representations – drawings, photographs and computer-generated imagery (CGI) – and will continue to do so.

But CGI-generated artists’ impressions often serve a marketing rather than a technical purpose. Frequently we’ll see them within sales or consultation publications depicting a yet-to-be-built proposal in the most ideal, and idealised, light.

"A ‘verified view’ is a verifiable image. That is, the view is created from a defined ‘real’ location and not from an imagined perspective"

A ‘verified view’, however, is, as the name suggests, a verifiable image. That is, the view is created from a defined ‘real’ location and not from an imagined perspective. It uses a baseline of verifiable visual information and combines photographic views with accurate CAD 3D representation of the proposals to an agreed level of detail. 

It will conform to technical guidance (see box: Technical guidance), rely on quantifiable data and, crucially, represent a consensus around what is realistic. Thus it can be used to scrutinise work without its veracity being questioned.

Verified views are particularly valuable in planning – for example, as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment process, in public consultation, in planning committees and at public inquiry.

In all cases the aim is to establish a realistic expectation of what a development will look like and what kind of physical impact it will have. Critically, this can instil a level of trust between public, planner and developer that enables genuinely useful feedback and amendment. 

By contrast, the use of inappropriate forms of visualisation that do not accurately represent a proposed development can have a detrimental effect on planning outcomes – chiefly by undermining trust and creating disappointment and resentment that is carried over into future developments.

"Technology now allows cost-effective preparation of high-quality animations, and virtual and augmented reality is being used as part of design development processes"

Much of the data required to produce verified views is now often routinely available within development planning teams, including accurate site survey and mapping and 3D CAD models of the development proposals. This can then be supplemented with high-quality photography taken to exacting standards. 

The cost and timescale for the production of verified views depends on the complexity of a development proposal, the level of information available from a client, the level of accurate detail and the number of views required. Any costs and timescales involved in the preparation of verified views must be weighed up against the benefits of producing them. 

The future of visualisation

As for the future of visualisations, in many respects it is already here. 

Technology now allows cost-effective preparation of high-quality animations, and virtual and augmented reality is being used as part of design development processes.

Future decisions on their use will still relate to project programmes and budgets, as well as deciding what type of visual representation is appropriate to the project stage and the expectations of receiving audiences. 

The limit to their use may also depend on the abilities and protocols of statutory planning authorities, and other bodies, to receive, store and view. 

It must always be remembered that the process is a means to an end, which is to inform the decision-making process and ultimately determine what is physically built.

Classified views

When producing verified views, a number of options are available to aid design and planning decisions, according to the level of detail required. These can be classified to broadly define their purpose in terms of the visual properties they represent. 

The following classification, derived from guidance produced by the Greater London Authority (2012), is a cumulative scale in which each level incorporates all of the properties of the previous level. The levels are referred to as Accurate Visual Representation (AVR) Levels 0, 1, 2 and 3.

Block models (AVR Level 0) can be helpful early in the design process to test massing and scale, especially in sensitive viewpoints. The final model (AVR Level 3) can then have materials and textures added and colour rendered as required. Real-world lighting is created and cameras are positioned using accurate survey and mapping.

AVR Level 0

AVR Level 1

AVR Level 2

AVR Level 3

Technical guidance

  • Landscape Institute, 2011. Photography and Photomontage in Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment. Advice Note 01/11 
  • Landscape Institute and Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment, 2013. Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment. Third Edition (GLVIA3)
  • Landscape Institute, 2017. Visual Representation of Development. Technical Guidance Note 02/17
  • Greater London Authority, 2012. London View Management Framework Supplementary Planning Guidance. Appendix C: Accurate Visual Representations
  • Scottish Natural Heritage, 2016.  Assessing the Impact of Small-Scale Wind Energy Proposals on the Natural Heritage. Version 3 
  • Scottish Natural Heritage, 2017. Visual Representation of Wind Farms. Version 2.2


Case study: Pinesgate, Bath

Pinesgate, within the Bath World Heritage Site (WHS), was allocated as a site for mixed-use development including retail, offices, leisure and residential. In 2015 a planning application for an office building on one half of the site was refused because the building height and materials would have a detrimental impact on the WHS.

A revised scheme, incorporating offices, a college building and student accommodation, was designed with the aid of verified views.

These were also used in the environmental impact assessment, in the public consultation exercise and in discussion by the planning committee. Feedback from members indicated that the visuals were helpful in allowing an understanding of the proposal. The scheme was approved.

“When proposing new development, particularly within a World Heritage Site, a picture truly does tell a thousand words,” says Niall McLean of Ediston Real Estate. “The ability to graphically illustrate the scale and massing of our proposals, and their relationship with the existing townscape enabled the planning committee to make a balanced and informed decision.”

 Alison Carroll is an associate environmental planner with Nicholas Pearson Associates. Chris Hale is CAD/IT manager and associate with NPA.

Images | Nicholas Pearson Associates