First Draft Watford Local Plan 2020-2036

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Chapter 7: Quality Design and Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment

7. 1. High Quality Design

Why is this policy needed?

7. 1. 1. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. It states that the creation of high quality buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve. It concludes that good design is a key aspect of sustainable development.

7. 1. 2. Design is the tool by which development should achieve key sustainability principles. This includes strategic and borough wide principles, neighbourhood design principles and site specific principles. Accordingly, a comprehensive design policy, supported by supplementary design guidance is required.

7. 1. 3. Plans and polices should set out a clear design vision and expectations. Maximum clarity is needed in order to establish a positive framework for creating quality designed places which function well, are sympathetic, establish a distinctive profile whilst optimising the potential for a site to achieving sustainable development.

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 1. 4. This policy seeks to provide a clear design expectation for proposals and provides a set of key principles that schemes should, in conjunction with the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019) and any subsequent updates, inform all development from the earliest stages of the design process.

7. 1. 5. In the most strategic sense, this policy aims to demonstrate how high quality design is necessary to achieve strategic design objectives, including efficient use of land, the creation of inclusive and mixed communities, designing for pedestrian and cyclist priority and achieving a high quality urban environment.

7. 1. 6. High quality design will need to manage an uplift in density in a way that is sympathetic and appreciates local context. In areas of low density development, a prevailing character should only be conserved if it is a positive character. Quality design is needed to ensure that the necessary efficiencies in land use do not compromise positive features of the historic and built environment.

7. 1. 7. To achieve a good housing mix, particularly in high density schemes, designing in family homes has been challenging. Innovation is required and a recognition that family homes in the form of terraced properties, town houses, ground floor duplexes and maisonettes can be provided as part of high density schemes is needed. This policy seeks to ensure that this is a key principle, particularly for medium to high density schemes. This will help achieve more inclusive communities and neighbourhoods.

7. 1. 8. High quality public realm is critical to achieving a place in which individuals, businesses and communities can thrive. The National Planning Policy Framework advocates attractive, inclusive and safe environments. Secured By Design[24] (Designing out Crime) remains an important tool for planning policies for promoting public safety, however, it is important that new developments are designed to be permeable and easy to navigate. It is important the public realm and the overall urban environment contributes to positive place making, is well maintained to ensure a sense of belonging, encourages regeneration and reduces the perception of crime.

7. 1. 9. A positive urban environment needs to create an environment that is more focussed on people, which requires new development to be less car dominated. All development should be designed for pedestrian and cyclist priority, as well as encouraging public transport use where it can be used.

Policy DC7.1 Strategic Principles for High Quality Design

All development proposals are required to achieve the following strategic design principles and will be supported where they demonstrate:

Optimising the use of land– All schemes will achieve the most efficient use of land using high quality and sensitive design to achieve appropriate densities. Development should seek to optimise their development footprint, accommodating access, servicing and parking in the most efficient way possible. Where possible, different land uses should be mixed together and where appropriate, residential uses should be located above businesses and community uses.

Creating mixed and equitable communities– A proportionate and good mix of homes is required for the design of all schemes. Where 3 bed units are provided in medium and high density schemes, this should be achieved by terraces, townhouses, ground floor duplexes, or maisonettes. These should be designed to encourage family living and that all ground floor units have direct access to the street through a front door.

Delivering high quality public realm and an attractive urban environment– Development proposals should demonstrate how the new scheme will improve the quality of the public realm and enhance the urban environment.

7. 2. Quality of place

What the policy is intended to do?

7. 2. 1. The quality of the living environment for future occupiers and how development relates to neighbouring properties depends on scale, massing and layout. This requires a considered approach to the site itself and its immediate surroundings, 'quality of place'. The policy requires schemes to be laid out to be less car dominated and prioritise the pedestrian and the cyclist. This not only relates to on-site layouts but also how the site connects to the wider pedestrian and cycle network

7. 2. 2. The visual and aesthetic impact of new developments relates strongly to how the principles of scale and massing are applied. Monolithic and slab like buildings which do not relate to the local context should be avoided. The National Planning Policy Framework requires new development to take opportunities to improve the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.

Policy DC7.2 Quality of Place

All development proposals are required to achieve the following quality of place design objectives:

Design for pedestrian and cyclist priority – All schemes should prioritise routes for pedestrians and cyclists ahead vehicles. Internal streets and spaces should be user friendly and connect to the wider strategic pedestrian and cyclist network. This includes walking routes to key public transport nodes.

Be visually attractive – Proposals should establish and maintain a sense of place, using street arrangements, building types, open spaces to create distinct and welcoming places accessible to all. When employment schemes are designed, they should take account of their surroundings and include measures to ensure they are integrated with public realm through landscaping.

Taller buildings – Proposals should form part of a cohesive group in the skyline or be placed at genuine landmark/node locations and be near mass transit systems. Detailed criteria for the assessment of tall buildings is contained in the Revised Residential Design Guide, and subsequent amendments (tbc, 2019).

Create or enhance positive local character – Schemes should have regard to local context where that character brings a positive contribution to the area. In areas undergoing change, proposals should establish a distinctive and positive emerging character. Particular attention should be paid to conserving and enhancing heritage assets within and adjoining redevelopment areas.

Achieving the right layout – Proposals should establish a clear and legible block and street layout with people-friendly streets and spaces and not be dominated by significant amounts of surface car parking.

Getting the scale and massing right – Proposals are required to establish a sympathetic design of proportionate mass and a scale that responds to context and the topography of the site, while not discouraging positive innovation in areas in need of transformation.

Public realm and amenity space – Proposals will need to ensure that public spaces are well connected, have a clear function, enable people to interpret and use the space in creative ways and are designed to have good natural surveillance.

Designing for quality landscaping – Proposals should not be dominated by hard landscaping and where necessary this should use high quality materials. Soft landscaping that is functional and visually attractive should be an integral part of all schemes.

Active frontages – Proposals should demonstrate how they ensure there are active frontages facing onto the public realm. It is important that all ground floor units have direct access to the street through a front door. Schemes which have a second door from a living room as the frontage access will not meet this requirement.

7. 3. Building Design

Why is this policy needed?

7. 3. 1. It is important to ensure that externally, new buildings have a strong relationship to the public realm and that the access points to the buildings are clearly identifiable and secure. Internally, care should be given to the location and design of shared areas, refuse, cycle and large item storage.

7. 3. 2. Proposals should provide dual aspect units with a limited number of units per floor sharing a core. This will improve social interaction and facilitate social cohesion within communities. Within the residential units, residents should have access to a comfortable living environment which meets their needs in terms of private amenity areas, sufficient storage, locally manageable air temperature controls and quiet areas where noise disturbance is minimised.

7. 3. 3. The National Planning Policy Framework states that a high standard of amenity for existing and future users is required. It asserts that policies should also make use of the nationally described space standards where the need for an internal space standard can be justified. This policy is needed to clearly meet the requirements in the National Planning Policy Framework. Standards in relation to internal spaces and private and public amenity space should be proportionate, conducive to comfortable living and be effective (standards for internal space, amenity and other standards are included in the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019)).

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 3. 4. This policy will require that all new housing development achieves a quality building design for future occupiers that is user friendly and avoid negative impacts on neighbouring properties. This policy relates specifically to the building itself in relation materials, building cores and waste management provision.

7. 3. 5. It also seeks complies with the guidance in the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019) and in particular that it complies with the nationally described space standard which is presented in the Design Guide.

Policy DC7.3 Building Design

All development proposals are required to demonstrate they comply with the council's design guidance (tbc, 2019) and achieve the following building design principles:

  • Shared amenity – Proposals should provide adequate shared amenity which provides a range of spaces. For employment uses, amenity space for employees should be provided, as appropriate.
  • Avoid negative impacts on neighbours – New proposals should not create undue negative amenity impacts on existing residents or between future occupiers. Developments will be required to minimise overlooking and reduce loss of privacy for both existing and new residents.
  • Providing a sympathetic palette of materials – High quality materials and robust architectural detailing are required for all schemes including building materials that are in keeping with local character.
  • Designing for Waste Management – Proposals should provide sufficient areas within the site for the recycling, storage and collection of waste which do not obstruct are easily accessible. It should be safe and not result in any odours that would adversely affect residents.
    • Where possible, bin stores should be small and screened from areas of public realm, are easily accessible and do not result in physical obstruction.
    • Bin stores should be located behind the building line or well designed into the landscape as a covered store and avoid being visually intrusive or compromising the quality and amount of amenity space.
    • Where possible, this should be within the building envelope or well integrated into the landscape as a covered store.

In addition to the above requirements, proposals for residential development will be required to include the following criteria as part of a proposal and demonstrate they comply with the council's design guidance (tbc, 2019):

  • Creating attractive and suitable living spaces – All schemes are required to establish occupier friendly and comfortable internal spaces within the units and well designed and efficient shared areas. All new housing schemes will be expected to comply with these nationally described standards and subsequent revisions.
  • Internal space standards – All new residential developments will be required to meet the optional internal space standards as set out in the Government's technical housing standards: nationally described space standard, and subsequent amendments.
  • Multiple cores – Proposals should have regular cores for residents to access apartments units. These should be clearly visible and at regular intervals along a frontage area. Alongside this there should be a maximum of six units a floor sharing a core area.
  • Private Amenity – All new residential units are expected to have access to a private amenity space. Proposals should ensure that the private amenity areas provided are useable and suited to the size and type of unit in which they are located. Private amenity should be designed so that there is an area which is screened from neighbours and the public realm and, as much as possible, provides a quiet and pollution free area for residents to use.
  • Housing tenure – Residential schemes are to be designed so the affordable housing is indistinguishable from market housing. This includes affordable housing that is integrated with market housing as part of individual buildings and where affordable housing is provided as a stand-alone building.

Householder extensions and alterations – Proposals will be permitted where they comply with guidance set out in the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019).

7. 4. Taller Buildings

Why is this policy needed?

7. 4. 1. Taller Buildings create a specific design challenge. They can be visually dominant and if not designed sensitively can potentially have negative impacts on the skyline, townscape and the immediate urban environment. A policy is required to give further expression to the design requirements of taller buildings.

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 4. 2. The policy seeks to establish key considerations for the design of taller buildings. In collaboration with the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019), it sets specific expectations for the design parameters for buildings significantly higher than the surroundings. This policy should be considered obligatory for all developments that include buildings considerably taller than their surroundings.

Policy DC7.4 Taller Buildings

All proposals for buildings higher than ten storeys, or buildings at least six storeys or more higher than their immediate surroundings, are required to comply with the following objectives and key design principles in the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019).

  • Make a positive contribution to the Watford skyline and not impact adversely on identified local or strategic views and recognised heritage assets, as identified the Revised Residential Design Guide (tbc, 2019);
  • Should be elegantly designed and avoid the creation of monolith blocks and significant empty facades;
  • Where the building meets the ground, active and vibrant frontages should be designed into the development;
  • Accommodate a mix of uses on different floors; which can enliven streets and spaces, support a range of typology and a mix of tenures;
  • Should consider building heights, and maintain an appropriate height-to-width ratio between buildings, in terms of their proportion and in relation to the size of the space they define and enclose;
  • Provide a public realm with a strong sense of spatial definition and robust character, and should strive to provide occupants with high quality amenity space;
  • Should minimise through design, or siting, any elements of a proposal which could have a negative climatic impact (microclimate and wind turbulence) in the surrounding area;
  • Not harm their surroundings in terms of daylight/sunlight, noise, and overshadowing;
  • Incorporate greening of the building (e.g. green living walls and roofs, and other energy efficiency measures).

7. 5. The Historic Environment

7. 5. 1. Watford contains a significant number of valuable heritage assets which reflect the historic development of the town. These heritage assets make an important contribution to the character and identity of the town and provide evidence of the social and economic development of the town. As well as providing an important social function through the preservation of linkages with the past, well managed heritage assets provide a valuable resource for delivering economic growth through tourism, heritage led regeneration and the higher land values associated with design excellence.

7. 6. Heritage Assets

Why is this policy needed?

7. 6. 1. The assets in the town range from Grade 1 Listed buildings through to registered parks and Conservation Areas. Each of the assets are unique and valuable to the town. National policy is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and legislation in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990[25]. Heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and should be protected in a manner appropriate to their significance.

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 6. 2. The policy seeks to improve the protection afforded to heritage assets in the borough. It sets out how the significance and value of assets and their setting will be considered when determining applications for development proposals that impact on the historic environment.

Policy DC7.5 Heritage Assets and the Historic Environment

Proposals for development will be supported when they are well designed to protect and enhance the significance, character and setting of any heritage assets potentially affected by a new development. The following will need to be taken into account when determining proposals involving heritage assets:

  • Proposals affecting heritage assets will only be permitted if their significance is preserved or enhanced;
  • Proposals for a change of use should retain the significance of the building and will only be supported if they are necessary to keep the building in active use;
  • Where there is evidence of intentional damage or neglect to an asset, its current condition will not be taken into account in the decision-making process;
  • Where development proposals lead to harm to or loss of significance of an asset due to impact on its setting, this harm or loss should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal;
  • Where the loss (whole or part) of an asset is accepted developers will be required to record and advance the understanding of the assets which are to be lost and to make this information publicly available. The extent of the recording should be proportionate to the importance of the asset and the impact of the proposals.

All proposals for development should have regard to the council's adopted Supplementary Planning Documents relating to the historic environment.

7. 7. Nationally Listed Buildings and Registered Parks and Gardens

Why is this policy needed?

7. 7. 1. Within the borough, there are a number of statutorily listed buildings and one registered park and garden. It is important to ensure the significance of these assets is protected and where possible, that significance can be better understood through any changes which have to be made to the assets. It is important that applications involving listed buildings and registered parks are clearly justified and necessary and have been designed to minimise the impact on the significance of the asset through appropriate enhancement and conservation measures.

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 7. 2. The policy seeks to ensure that the significance of the assets and the impact of proposals on the significance is fully understood and appropriate measures are taken to minimise harmful impact to that significance.

Policy DC7.6 Nationally Listed Buildings and Registered Parks and Gardens

Nationally listed buildings and scheduled monuments

Applications for alterations, extensions, alternative viable uses or changes to the setting which will not be harmful to the significance of the asset, including its historic or architectural interest and which enhance the character and features of the asset will be supported.

Applications which involve substantial harm to, or loss of, a listed building or its setting will be determined accordance with their significance; Grade I, Grade II and Grade II* or a Scheduled Ancient Monument. This will only be supported in exceptional circumstances where it is demonstrated that the benefits clearly outweigh any substantial adverse impact.

Registered parks and gardens

Planning permission will not be granted for proposals that would cause unacceptable harm to registered parks or gardens, their settings or public views into, out of, or within them.

7. 8. Conservation Areas

Why is this policy needed?

7. 8. 1. The council has designated a number of Conservation Areas within the borough which have their own special character and architectural and historic interest which contributes to their significance. It is important to retain and protect those parts of a Conservation Area that contribute to its significance and to take opportunities to enhance the character and appearance of the Conservation Area through new development proposals. It is important to ensure that factors which contribute to the significance of the Conservation Areas are respected when new development is proposed.

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 8. 2. The policy seeks to provide additional protection to these areas of special character and to ensure that development proposals take the opportunity to enhance or better reveal the significance of the Conservation Areas and their setting.

Policy DC7.7 Conservation Areas

New development in Conservation Areas

Within Conservation Areas development will be supported which:

  • Is of a design and scale that preserves or enhances the character and appearance of the area;
  • Uses building materials, finishes, including those for features such as walls, railings, gates and hard surfacing, that are appropriate to the local context;
  • Retains historically significant boundaries, important open spaces and other elements of the area established pattern of development of the area, character and historic value, including gardens, roadside banks and verges;
  • Retains and restores, where relevant, traditional features such as shop fronts, walls, railings, paved surfaces and street furniture, and improves the condition of structures worthy of retention;
  • Does not harm important views into, out of, or within the Conservation Area;
  • Protects trees, hedgerows and other significant landscape features and incorporates landscaping appropriate to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area;
  • Results, where relevant, in the removal of unsympathetic features and the restoration or reinstatement of missing features.

Demolition in Conservation Areas

To preserve and enhance the character, appearance and setting of Conservation Areas in the borough, proposals involving demolition will be determined in accordance with the following:

  • Demolition of a building which makes positive contribution to the special character or appearance of a Conservation Area will be treated as substantial harm;
  • It can be demonstrated that the structure to be demolished is wholly beyond repair or incapable of beneficial use;
  • It can be demonstrated that the removal of the structure and its subsequent replacement with a new building and/or open space would enhance the Conservation Area;
  • Where demolition is considered to be acceptable, such as where a building or structure detracts from the significance of the Conservation Area, permission will only be granted subject to conditions linking the demolition to the implementation of an approved redevelopment scheme.

For development outside, but near to a Conservation Area, will only be supported where there is no adverse effect on the setting and character of the Conservation Area.

7. 9. Locally Listed Buildings

Why is this policy needed?

7. 9. 1. The Council has identified a number of buildings and structures which have a local heritage value and have created a local list of buildings to reflect this. These are non-designated assets and make an important contribution to the character and identity of the town. It is important to ensure that the features which make these assets distinctive are considered and respected when development is proposed.

What is the policy intended to do?

7. 9. 2. The policy seeks to provide additional protection to locally listed buildings and to ensure that development proposals take the opportunity to enhance or better reveal the significance of their setting.

Policy DC7.8 Locally Listed Buildings

Substantial weight will be given to preserving and enhancing locally listed buildings. Proposals for development affecting the appearance, character or setting of locally listed buildings should ensure that due regard is paid to safeguarding the relevant features of the building and its setting.

Alterations, extensions, changes of use and changes to the setting of a locally listed building will be supported which:

  • Are of a design and scale which preserves or enhances the features which contribute to its significance;
  • Uses building materials, features and finishes for features such as gates, walls, railings and hard surfacing which are appropriate to the setting of the asset and the local context.
  • Result in the removal of unsympathetic alterations and the restoration or reinstatement of missing features.

Any harm to the significance of the locally listed assets arising from development proposals will be balanced against the public benefits of the scheme.

Where demolition is proposed it should be demonstrated that all reasonable attempts have been made to retain and reuse all or part of the building.

7. 10. Archaeology

Why is this policy needed?

7. 10. 1. There is much we can learn from remains which lie under the ground. It is important to ensure that remains which are either known or as yet unknown are protected when development is proposed. Such remains can provide a great insight into the social and economic lives of people living many years ago.

What is policy intended to do?

7. 10. 2. The policy seeks to ensure that when development is proposed which may disturb remains, appropriate measures are taken to ensure that there is a good understanding of where such remains may lie and that if found appropriate measures are taken to protect those remains for future generations.

Policy DC7.9 Archaeology

Where an application site includes, is considered to, or is found to have the potential to include, heritage assets with archaeological interest, it must be accompanied by an appropriate desk-based assessment and, where desk-based research is insufficient to properly assess the interest, a field evaluation.

Development will be supported where:

  • The proposals are accompanied by an appropriate assessment of the significance of an archaeological asset;
  • Any harm is minimised, clearly justified and necessary to achieve public benefits which are substantial enough to outweigh loss or harm to the significance of an archaeological asset.
  • The significance of any archaeological asset or part of an asset to be lost is recorded and made publicly available.

Where the loss of the whole, or a material part of, the significance of a heritage asset of archaeological interest is justified, planning conditions will be included in any permission to ensure that an adequate record is made of the significance of the heritage asset before it is lost. This will be secured through an archaeological Written Scheme of Investigation which must include provision for appropriate publication of the evidence. The potential for local public engagement and dissemination should also be considered and included in the Written Scheme of Investigation where this is deemed to be appropriate.


[24] www.securedbydesign.com/

[25] www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/9/contents

To take part in these consultations, you will first need to register as a user by clicking on the link at the top right of this page. Once you have registered, select a document, then comments can be given by clicking on the pen icon and writing in the form that appears. For further assistance please read our help guide.
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