Local Plan to 2030 - Publication Draft

Promoting High Quality Design

Design Quality

3.158 Delivering development that is of high design quality and is sustainable is a key Council priority.  The National Planning Policy Framework is unequivocal in the ‘great importance’ the Government attaches to design as ‘a key aspect of sustainable development….indivisible from good planning’ (para 56 NPPF).  The Framework requires ‘robust and comprehensive policies’ (para 58) in local plans – this chapter sets these out.

3.159 The need for good design applies in all areas of the Borough, whether in a sensitive village or countryside setting; on the periphery of Ashford or within the town area.  Given the scale of development that needs to be planned for in the Borough – especially in and around Ashford town - it is crucial that high quality design and place-making sits at the top of the Council’s agenda.   To be successful it is critical that as strong a consensus as possible is built with local communities affected by development.  For over a decade the Council has worked in this way and has received national awards reflecting the best practice it has set.

The design process

3.160 Design issues start to emerge even before the draft local plan stage when potential site allocations are discussed with local people and site promoters before becoming site policies in the Plan.  To build community involvement from the outset and work with local people to drive design quality the Council may use a variety of tools – such as public exhibitions/ surgeries and collaborative design workshops.  The actual combination of tools used will depend on the scale and nature of the site in question.  National design guidance such as ‘The Manual for Streets’;the Kent Design Guide, development briefs and Supplementary Planning Documentsand, in the rural areas, Village Design Statements help to make up the package of supporting design guidance.

3.161 The ‘Building for Life’ toolkit is a useful tool for the Council and local people to use to explore design options and then to help assess housing proposals. As the most strategic local plan site allocations come forward, the Council will set up design workshops, funded by the developer, to bring representatives of the local community to work together with developers, their designers and service providers.   This is established best-practice in line with NPPF advice (para 66).  These  workshops help to build a masterplan based on key principles of place-making and are a well established part of the planning process in the Borough that helps to provide a clear basis for planning applications.  By building a consensus with the community and other stakeholders they create greater certainty for investors with the cost savings that implies. 

3.162 There is a long established and independent Ashford Design Panel that the Council uses to test emerging proposals and to allow those promoting development to explain their design approach.  The expert second opinion the Panel provides is invaluable and the conclusions it reaches are used to help inform officers’ assessments of proposals and the Planning Committee in making decisions. Larger developments, or those of smaller scale but on a prominent site, are referred to the Panel at the applicants’ expense.  This happens relatively early in the design process to help shape good quality proposals and avoid wasting time and money on poorly designed schemes.  This reflects the advice in the NPPF (para 62) that local authorities should have such arrangements in place.

3.163 Design and Access statements are required with most types of planning application. They should demonstrate how the Council’s key design principles, set out below, and those in Neighbourhood Plans have been taken into account and reflected in project design.  The findings of any public involvement in exhibitions or design workshops should be summarised with an explanation showing where they have influenced the design. 

3.164 If good design is undermined during the construction process then any amount of good design on paper can be undone.  Large construction projects are complex with many players – sub-contractors, service providers, etc – and it is not surprising that genuine mistakes can happen. Sometimes the problems are compounded by   poor workmanship; the use of the wrong materials; or not following the agreed plans. 

3.165 Creating great places demands an attention to detail and care in construction.  The Council has had too many examples of poor delivery on site which lets down residents and undermines the quality of place aspired to in Ashford.  As a result a ‘Quality Monitoring Initiative’ has been set up which involves specialist officers working with site managers to regularly check that schemes are being delivered correctly.  Spotting any issues early will reduce the risk of repetitive mistakes being made and the costs of putting things right.  Developers are encouraged to work with the Council in this way to the mutual benefit of all parties.

 

Key Design Qualities

3.166 a) Character, Distinctiveness and Sense of Place: The Borough is made up of many different places, each with their own distinctive characteristics of development form, landscape and surrounding space, both historic and new. All development proposals need to reflect their local context, particularly where this has a special character or features of interest, whether built or natural.

3.167 Where the built environment is of decent quality, new proposals should be sensitive in terms of scale, height, layout and massing to the surrounding buildings. Where the surrounding development is fragmented or of poor quality, development proposals will be expected to help repair the urban fabric and generate distinctiveness, with good quality architecture and careful treatment of the space around the building.  Public art has a key role to play in helping to add to local character and people’s enjoyment of places.

3.168 In areas of significant new development very careful attention needs to be given to creating new places with their own sense of character and place.  Larger developments may need to be broken down into separate areas with their own character but within an overall masterplan linking the parts together.  Part of this involves working with existing character, for example,  retaining historic reference points to help create a sense of local identity and distinctiveness.  Masterplans and development briefs which are prepared to support site policies have a key role to play in helping shape a sense of place and supporting planning applications, infrastructure planning and delivery. 

3.169 More generally, where historic features exist - including listed buildings, conservation areas, ancient roads, green lanes and byways and sites of archaeological interest – these must be respected by new development and, where appropriate, carefully integrated with new development.

3.170 b) Ease of Movement: Places should be designed so that they are easy to use on foot but also successfully cater for cars and other vehicles.  Major developments – whether in town centres or peripheral new housing areas – need a network of inter-connected routes that tie them into the surrounding area.  This offers pedestrians and cyclists more choices of route and these people help to animate places.  Likewise new housing areas based on linked routes perform better than extensive cul-de-sac systems.

3.171 Equally new developments need to be designed with the needs of vehicle users in mind and parking.Sufficient spaces are needed to avoid inappropriate parking and these need to be well designed so that they are used by residents.  Often visitor parking is best accommodated on-street with the street designed to provide clear parking spaces but also having sufficient width to allow this without causing congestion.

3.172 c) Legibility: Places should have a clarity of form and layout that create identity and help people understand them. This can be achieved through street layout and variation in density in particular – the centre of places often being marked by an increase in the density and height.  Other important tools include the placing of more interesting, ‘landmark’ buildings at the end of vistas and views, on corners and intersections or incorporating natural features like mature trees and ponds.  Legibility (and sense of place) is undermined by unthinking repetition, blandness in design and a lack of reference to context.

3.173 d) Mixed Use and Diversity: All successful centres – whether in town, village or new housing area - rely on a mix of uses, activities and variety and choice of property types.  In Ashford town active uses on ground floor frontages of the main streets is needed helps to bring life to the centre.  In a similar way within new housing areas a grouping of local shops, live-work units and community facilities can help create a successful centre.  Building-in flexibility is important – space reserved for future facilities and buildings designed to be capable of residential or shop/ office use on the ground floor are good examples.

3.174 e) Public safety: Designs should be based on a clear distinction between public and private spaces.  New buildings and/or landscape should create continuity of form and enclosure to the street, and allow overlooking and natural surveillance of the street or open space.  This clarity in design thinking will help create a safe environment by reducing the potential for anti-social behaviour and crime.

3.175 f) Quality of Public Spaces and their future management: The quality of public spaces does much to define the overall quality of the place. It depends on a number of elements which need to be carefully taken into account at the design stage - accessibility, degree of enclosure, size, the quality of materials and street furniture, lighting, planting, orientation, public art, how well it is overlooked and the uses in and surrounding the space.

3.176 The pattern of public spaces and how well they are linked together is crucial in an urban setting but also in new developments.  The functions of the space need to be understood and reflected in masterplanning and detailed design.  

3.177 The quality of the public realm depends on how well it is maintained.  Too often private management arrangements put in place by developers have not been robust and residents have suffered as a result.  Properly funded, long-term management and maintenance arrangements are needed to make sure that the quality of place is protected in future.  The basis for such arrangements will need to be clear when planning applications are made – the Council firmly believes that these schemes work best where there is a strong degree of resident involvement.    

3.178 g) Flexibility and Liveability: Refurbishment, conversion and extension are usually more sustainable and energy efficient than demolition and new build. With an ageing population the adaptability of homes is more important than ever.  New homes should be designed with sufficient space to provide a good quality of life for residents – both issues are now dealt with in the Building Regulations.  The Council’s local guidance complements this national framework – for example, dealing with external space in gardens and balconies, and external storage (for bins etc). 

3.179 Major new developments also need to have some adaptability built in  for example in new local centres, land may need to be reserved to help provide for future needs as they emerge; and the ground floor design and ceiling height of buidings at key locations can be designed to accommodate a range of future uses.

3.180 Communications infrastructure needs to be able to cope with today’s demands and  likely future demands in mind.  The normal expectation will be that new development includes ducting and fibre optic cabling to the home unless there are technical issues that prevent this or abnormal costs.

3.181 Developments should be adaptable and designed to reduce vulnerability to the effects of climate change. This may involve a range of features – for example, on site sustainable drainage to help deal with intense rainfall events, and tree planting on the northern sides of streets and in public spaces to provide shade in summer and reduce ‘heat island’ effects.  Practice will inevitably change and further guidance will be produced when needed.    

3.182 h) Richness in detail: Attention to detail is an essential part of design quality. Visual richness requires quality in design, materials and workmanship. In larger buildings, the design of the facades will need to be broken down to ensure that they have a human scale, avoid the repetitive use of the same visual elements and are visually interesting. Details such as window design, recessed and projecting features, surface treatment and transition between materials need as much attention as any other aspect of design.

3.183 There is clearly a role for high quality traditional designs in an area with a strong historic character but quality modern buildings will introduce variety and interest into the townscape and present a good opportunity to add examples of the architecture and styles of our own period into the landscape. 

3.184 i) Efficient use of natural resources: Buildings and landscapes should be designed to make efficient use of natural resources during construction, operation and maintenance. This will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and reduce the ecological footprint of Ashford’s growth.   The Council will actively encourage the design of new buildings that minimise the need for energy and water consumption, use renewable energy sources, provide for sustainable drainage, support water re-use and incorporate facilities to recycling of waste and resources. Sunlight and energy efficiency should be considered as an integral part of the layout through passive solar design and natural ventilation systems. Developments should also consider whole-life performance and costs. Ashford Borough is a largely rural area and includes an area which is one of the least polluted by artificial light in south-east England.  Protecting the rural parts of the Borough – and particularly the Dark Sky area – will help to protect the character of the countryside and reduce wasted energy use (see policy ENV4).  

Policy SP6 - Promoting High Quality Design

Development proposals must be of high quality design and demonstrate a careful consideration of and a positive response to each of the following design criteria:

  1. Character, Distinctiveness and Sense of Place
  2. Ease of Movement
  3. Legibility
  4. Mixed use and Diversity
  5. Public safety
  6. Quality of Public Spaces and their future management
  7. Flexibility and Liveability
  8. Richness in Detail
  9. Efficient use of Natural Resources

Development proposals should show how they have responded positively to the design policy and guidance in relevant Neighbourhood Plans and Village Design Statements.

Developers are strongly encouraged to participate in the Council’s ‘Quality Monitoring Initiative’ which works to make sure that the approach agreed to design quality when planning permission is given is delivered on site.