Greater Manchester Landscape Character and Sensitivity Assessment

LUC was appointed by GMCA to undertake a landscape character and sensitivity assessment (LCA and LSA) across the ten districts of Greater Manchester.

The study includes an assessment of the landscape’s sensitivity to different types and scales of development. The output is comprehensive, consistent and robust landscape evidence to inform the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF).

The LUC team comprised landscape planners, planners and GIS specialists. The Project Manager (LI professional member) was responsible for developing the methodology, liaising with the client and partner organisations, coordinating desk and field analysis and reporting findings. Critically, she ensured consistency in approach across the team – particularly important when judgements on landscape sensitivity are being made.

LUC worked closely with the client and Steering Group to ensure the large number of authorities and non-landscape specialists involved were fully engaged and able to influence the process throughout.

Greater Manchester comprises a complex matrix of industrial towns and cities and often extensive suburban areas. The countryside in-between – narrow river corridors, wedges of land and the imposing Pennine fringe – is an incredibly important part of an otherwise dense city region and a resource under great pressure from development and infrastructure.

The first draft of the GMSF included Green Belt (GB) releases to meet urgent housing need. These prompted extensive opposition from local people, fearing the loss of their countryside. Concurrently, the incoming Mayor, Andy Burnham, flagged a change in policy, including a greater emphasis on protecting the GB.

As it reshaped proposals in response, GMCA identified a lack of sound landscape evidence. Without this, it would be difficult to steer development to the most suitable locations. Equally importantly, it would be impossible to develop a positive strategy for areas of countryside retained as GB. A technical assessment of landscape issues was therefore recognised as critical in responding positively to people’s concerns about their countryside.

The resulting study embeds landscape evidence at the heart of the GMSF. It responds to public and political concerns and provides a means of ensuring that the importance of the landscape resource is properly reflected in policy at all levels. The work has contributed to positive discussion about the future of Manchester’s countryside and its role in delivering critical ecosystem services.

The key challenges this project needed to overcome related to the sheer scale of the area to be assessed, its fragmented character and the variability in the quality and currency of baseline LCA information across 10 authorities. Crucially, the assessment needed to be pitched at a scale that was practical and deliverable, while providing the detail necessary to reflect local distinctiveness and inform decision-making.

We overcame these challenges by creating a unified spatial framework of ten Landscape Character Types (LCTs) and 46 Landscape Character Areas. The LCTs provide the analytical framework for both the LCA and LSA, with detailed descriptions of current character, an analysis of condition and a criteria-based assessment of landscape sensitivity. LCAs allow for local variations in sensitivity to be reflected. Crucially, each LCT profile culminates in a section on opportunities for landscape enhancements in connection with Green Belt release or new development.

This scheme:
- fills a critical evidence gap, responding to a significant area of public and political concern.
- ensures that an understanding of landscape informs decisions about the release of land for development.
- plays a proactive role in shaping the positive management and enhancement of the Green Belt.
- emphasises the importance of all GM landscapes; large and small, intact or fragmented, in setting the context for development and enhancing the health and wellbeing of Manchester’s 2.8 million residents.


  • Project Name

    Greater Manchester Landscape Character and Sensitivity Assessment

  • Location

    Greater Manchester

  • Category


  • Landscape Architect


  • Client

    Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA)

  • Brief

    The purpose of this commission was to support the radical re-write of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework through an understanding of landscape character and areas of landscape sensitivity (including quality).

  • Awards

    Finalist, Landscape Institute Awards 2019


  • Project Team

    Client: Richard Wood, GMCA Consultancy: Nick James: Project Director (Landscape Planner) Sally Marshall: Project Manager (Landscape Planner) Maria Grant: Principal Landscape Planner Alex Burton: Senior Landscape Planner Laura Cargill: Principal Landscape Planner Chris Cox: Landscape Architect Katie Stenson: GIS Consultant

  • Year Completed


  • Project Size

    128,000 ha

  • Contract Value


  • LUC

    Registered Practice - (21 + Employees)
  • Approximate Map Location


    Greater Manchester

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