Good building and landscape design is important.

Like many other planning authorities, we have advocated high quality design for many years through our policies and in development management practice. This approach is supported by national planning policy on design (National Policy Planning Framework refers) and by Design Council CABE. Our policies have stressed the importance of respecting local character and for many years we have carried out an annual assessment of completed developments to see how well that objective has been met.

Every place is different and has its own character or sense of place; how it looks and feels. This can be made up of many elements, but the most common ones are the type and scale of buildings; their style and materials; the spaces between them – and what is found in those spaces; the pattern and form of roads and paths – formal or informal; site frontages, including trees and hedges and what the buildings are used for.

Attractive and lively buildings, streets, parks and neighbourhoods, especially those with a mixture of compatible uses and historic character, all contribute to making the area a special place which is a pleasure to live in. The quality of our surroundings is also now recognised as a vital factor in attracting and retaining businesses, employers and tourists.

The Council and local communities believe it is important to recognise this character and to maintain it. New development brings change and we must therefore ensure that change is sympathetic to the locality. The Council believes that the best way to achieve this is to design new development in a way that respects and, where possible, helps to improve the character of the surrounding area.

What we will expect in the design of development

We expect developers, designers and architects to follow the approach of:

  1. study the site and its surroundings and gain an understanding of the character of the area. Our Local Distinctiveness Design Guide Supplementary Planning Guidance can help

  2. identify options for developing the site

  3. see what local people think of those options

  4. show how the favoured design was chosen and why it is thought right for the site and in keeping with local character.

In this process it is important to show that you have:

  1. started with an open mind

  2. learnt about the area

  3. considered local views

  4. considered a range of options for developing the site

  5. designed your chosen option to suit the area.

If you want to take advantage of the Council’s pre-application advice service it is important that you do this before stage 5 and ideally before stage 4.

Any Design and Access Statement supporting a planning application must demonstrate this approach. In simple terms, it must tell the story of how the application came to be the way it is and what influenced it.

Further advice on Design and Access Statements.

Evaluation of designs

We will assess the design of submitted development proposals, at both pre-application and submitted application stages, against published guidance, including the Council’s Local Distinctiveness Design Guide Supplementary Planning Guidance and a growing library of photographic records of the borough's character areas, which we plan to place on-line for wider use.

We will also look to see how clearly the story of the design process has been described and how clearly local character and opinion have influenced the design decisions.

When the officer report on a submitted planning application is produced we will identify how closely the approach set out above has been followed. If it has not been demonstrated satisfactorily that this process, or something of equal value, has been followed, the report will record the fact and permission may therefore be refused.

We may seek independent design assessment for significant projects, for example from the South East Regional Design Panel.

Landscaping in new development

Landscaping, particularly trees, hedges and surfaced areas, is integral to good design. A well designed development will consist of buildings that sit comfortably within planting that is characteristic of the local area.

Landscaping proposals should include details of existing features that are being kept (these will need to be protected during construction) as well as new planting. New planting should be of species that are characteristic of the area where they will be in public view. The most important areas are therefore road frontages, which are part of the public realm.

Landscaping is not something to fill the spaces left by buildings and roads. It should be equal to them and designed at the same time as part of a comprehensive approach to the site.

What sort of landscaping?

The clue to answering this question should be visible in the surrounding area:

  • what sort and species of trees, what sizes

  • hedges, especially on road frontages

  • structural planting between plots – hedges and trees.

In most areas, the most dominant element will be mature native broad leaf trees such as oak or beech. These trees are the legacy of past generations and we expect new developments to include trees that will do the same in the decades and centuries to come. These trees will need sufficient space to grow to maturity and it may be best to plan for a small number of these high value trees than to spread smaller ornamental ones throughout the development.

The proposed site layout should consider opportunities to make tree planting a focal point, for example at the end of a cul-de-sac or in a square.

Most developments include private areas, where the Council will leave it to occupiers to treat as they wish. However, landscaping within areas in public view, forming part of the public realm, deserves the same thought and attention as the design of the buildings.

Further information

Useful documents related to the design issues mentioned above: