- The Local Plan and the Spatial Strategy
- Planning policies to guide development
- Sites for development
- Chapter 1: A Spatial Strategy for Watford
- Chapter 2: Core Development Area
- Chapter 3: Homes for a Growing Community
- Chapter 4: A Strong Economy
- Chapter 5: A Vibrant Town
- Chapter 6: An Attractive Town
- Chapter 7: The Historic Environment
- Chapter 8: A Climate Emergency
- Chapter 9: Conserving and Enhancing the Environment
- Chapter 10: Infrastructure
- Chapter 11: A Sustainable Travel Town
- Chapter 12: A Healthy Community
- Chapter 13: Site Allocations and New Development
Watford Final Draft Local Plan 2018-2036
Chapter 6: An Attractive Town
An Attractive Town
6.1 The Spatial Strategy identifies areas of the town where transformational change is appropriate, areas where the scale of change is lower and some areas where very little change is expected. Within Watford's urban fabric there are existing areas of distinctive and high quality character, which should be retained and reinforced, and other areas where the character has been eroded through past developments that present opportunities for creating new, distinctive, high quality places.
Figure 6.1: Principals of good design
6.2 New development provides an opportunity to make a positive contribution through high quality design. To help deliver the objectives of the Local Plan, applicants will need to demonstrate how they have integrated high quality design in a fashion that reflects the character of the area. 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. The National Design Guide sets out detailed practice guidance which new development should follow. Development proposals should take account of guidance provided in the Council's supporting planning documents and guidance.
6.3 To ensure that the growth proposed can be delivered in a way which will retain and reinforce the character and identity of Watford three types of area within the town have been identified.
- The core development area, where most of the growth for the town will take place and the scale of change is expected to be transformational;
- protected areas where the scale of growth will be very limited and very respectful of the local context; and
- established areas (parts of the town not in the Core Development Area or Protected Areas) where the scale of change is more limited than the Core Development Area but where some intensification is expected.
6.4 Protected areas include all parks and open spaces (detailed map at Figure 9.1) and all conservation areas (detailed map at Figure 7.2)
Figure 6.2: Established, Protected and Core Development Areas
Strategic Policy QD6.1: Design for an Attractive Town
New Development in Watford is required to deliver high quality design. Buildings will be designed to minimise environmental impact including mitigating climate change impacts, deliver attractive and functional spaces and reinforce and develop a distinctive local character with durable, lasting materials. Proposals will be required to demonstrate that they have responded positively to sensitive areas. New public realm will be attractive, accessible and reflective of the needs of the community.
There are three areas in Watford, each of which requires a separate approach when considering the design of new development.
Core Development Area
The approach to design will encourage a new positive character, enhance areas of poor quality and build on existing aspects of positive design. High density development will be supported, with the highest densities to be located in the most sustainable locations. Proposals for taller buildings will be of an appropriate height that reflects its location, role in the built up area, contributes to wayfinding as a key marker in the townscape and which makes a positive contribution towards an attractive skyline
Proposals for major developments will be required to achieve high quality design, with taller buildings required to demonstrate exceptional design and innovation that are well connected through a quality public realm that is interesting and people can easily interpret and use. Together, these will contribute towards achieving a compact and walkable town.
Proposals will demonstrate how they maximise the relationship between new buildings, environmental features and people, maximise site specific opportunities and contribute towards their integration with the surrounding area.
In locations where the Core Development Area is adjacent to existing areas of established residential character, proposals will need to be designed to reflect this sensitivity and demonstrate how they enable an appropriate transition between these areas.
This includes all areas that lie outside the Core Development Area and the Protected Areas. The degree of change will be more limited than in the Core Development Area but is expected to result in a gentle uplift in the density of the area. Development proposals in these areas should be led by the existing characteristics of the local area and will reinforce and where appropriate enhance the character of the local area.
The degree of change within these areas or which affects their setting will be more limited. Development proposals will be of the highest design standard and particular attention should be paid to the detailing and materials proposed for the scheme. Design cues should be taken from heritage assets and designations to inform and guide the character and identity of new development.
6.5 The quality and distinctiveness of a place is the result of decisions made about how the buildings relate to one another and to the spaces between them. This affects the way the place looks, feels and is used. It is important that new developments in the town make a positive contribution to the identity and character of the local area and support and enhance the local movement network whilst providing opportunities for businesses to thrive, spaces for people to enjoy and leisure activities.
6.6 The ground floor of new buildings should provide animated and active frontages. This can be achieved through the provision of direct access to ground floor uses and the positioning of ground floor uses so that the active uses animate the adjoining public space. This will help streets and spaces to be lively areas and contribute to social wellbeing and strong communities.
6.7 New development inclusive of individual buildings and the public spaces between them should be designed for all users, link well into the existing network and provide safe and attractive areas for cyclists and pedestrians. Street layouts should follow a logical structure and hierarchy to aid navigation including: incorporating local landmarks; other distinctive features that help wayfinding and be designed to provide a logical sequence of key points.
6.8 Local and town wide views are important to residents and those arriving in the town, and are an important aid to finding key locations. Key views are identified in supporting planning documents.
Policy QD6.2: Design Principles
Proposals for new development will be required to show how they will make a positive contribution to high quality design and place making. To achieve this, proposals for new development will need to show how they have responded to the following design principles.
Character and identity
New buildings and streets are to be attractive and distinctive. This includes consideration to the way an area looks, feels, sounds, smells and how it functions, both presently and in the future. Street scenes are to be of high quality, welcoming and take design cues from existing buildings, where they make a positive contribution to the character of the area ensuring it is identifiable and relatable to residents.
The scale and massing of proposed buildings will need to relate to the local context and the role of the area. Building footprints are to be of an appropriate scale, enhance the relationship between buildings individually, collectively and the spaces between them to create environments that are relatable to people, easy to understand, have good light, minimise wind effects and improve connections with the surrounding area. New buildings should make use of local topography, to reinforce Watford's distinctiveness.
Active and positive frontages
On main streets and in public spaces, new buildings should include active frontages and / or positive frontages and ensure an active visual and physical relationship between the street, or space, and the building. Uses on the ground floor should incorporate active uses to animate the interface between buildings and the public realm.
Movement and connectivity
Streets are to be designed so they are efficient, convenient, legible and permeable, to support all users and prioritise non-vehicular travel. Routes need to be designed for their anticipated level of use and be clearly defined, to make it easy for different users to interpret using appropriate wayfinding measures, including sightlines.
New development will need to make a positive contribution towards important views in the borough. This includes views from high vantage points, ground level and long distance views. New development where long distance views are important and should enhance the setting of local landmarks where appropriate. New developments that have an impact on the local skyline will need to be designed to an exceptional standard that will improve the distinctiveness of Watford in a positive way.
6.9 High quality and functional public realm is crucial to creating places in which communities and businesses can thrive. Streets and spaces should be designed to promote social interaction and inclusion, where people of all ages and abilities can mix, feel safe and be comfortable. In areas of higher density development, it is crucial that the streets and spaces accommodate a wide range of uses to meet the needs of the communities around them such as areas for play, fitness, quiet spaces and more generally to contribute towards improving health and wellbeing.
6.10 The spaces created between buildings should be convenient for a wide range of users, adaptable and flexible so they can accommodate the changing needs and lifestyles of users and changing uses over time. Building lines and active frontages should be used to define the public realm and building height used to create a sense of enclosure that results in a comfortable and usable space or street.
6.11 Complementary elements, such as materials, finishes, furniture, planting, signage, lighting and public art should be used to ensure that the spaces and streets created in new developments are at a human scale. Design details should consider the health and well-being of the people using them, for example the provision of shade and shelter, places to rest as well spaces for more active uses. The creation of 'gated communities' which do not contribute to well connected, accessible and a permeable public realm should be avoided.
Policy QD6.3: Public Realm
All areas of public realm need to be designed so they are safe, accessible, inclusive and attractive. Public spaces in new development will be supported where it is demonstrated they meet the following criteria:
- Create spaces that positively reinforce local identity;
- Routes and spaces are designed to accommodate social interaction, activity and green infrastructure for everyone to use;
- Use appropriate street furniture to enable informal play, areas for rest, encourage social interaction, wayfinding measures and linkages between local destinations taking care to avoid unnecessary street clutter, and consider how spaces will be used during the day, evening and night;
- Provide safe environments, using active frontages, natural surveillance, sightlines, good lighting and well located building entrances
- Create an attractive environment using tree / shrub planting and soft landscaping, prioritising native species; consideration will need to be given to maintenance and how soft landscaping is used to reduce the sense of car dominance, where car parking is provided; and
- Use public art where it will animate the public realm and foster a sense of identity.
6.12 The delivery of high quality public realm within new schemes and within the Strategic Development Areas will be secured through the use of conditions or S106 Agreements.
6.13 High quality building design is important to creating successful places, in terms of the impact that the external appearance has on the spaces and streets around it and the internal living environment which occupiers experience. Good building design will contribute to high quality living environments and will have a beneficial impact on the health and wellbeing of users and occupiers.
Relationship between buildings and streets
6.14 New buildings should be designed so that the external appearance enhances the positive aspects and features of existing local character and identity. There are some parts of the urban area where the positive character has been eroded through inappropriate past development and proposals to redevelop in such locations should take the opportunity to enhance and upgrade the character and identity of the area, drawing on the positive aspects of the wider area.
6.15 The detailed design of the building facades should have a positive relationship with the street and, in particular, should be at a scale that people walking in the street can relate to and feel comfortable with. Façades facing the street and other public spaces should have entrances and windows at regular intervals allowing access to the building and the sense that the space is over looked from the surrounding buildings.. The details and materials should reflect those found in the local area but may be interpreted in a more contemporary and innovative way. Materials should be of high quality and designed to age well, retaining their quality and finish; care should be taken when introducing new materials alongside traditional ones, so that they work well together and also reinforce local character, whilst creating a distinctive new identity.
Flexibility in design
6.16 The design of new buildings should consider how the building and the spaces in the area will be used now and in the future, and ensure that they can be adapted to accommodate the needs of future users. In particular, consideration should be given to how new residential buildings can facilitate changing working patterns, where more people may be working at home more of the time. This may be achieved by providing additional space within residential units or in appropriate locations, providing a shared workspace on the ground floor of a new building. Applications for residential development should demonstrate how this has been considered.
Designing for comfortable environments
6.17 The effects of climate change mean that buildings should be adequately heated and cooled to deal with more extreme hot and cold spells. Where possible, new residential units should be able to be cooled using natural cross ventilation, which will result in a more energy efficient building. This can be achieved using dual aspect units in residential schemes which will also improve the daylight levels. Internal design measures, such as higher ceilings, can be used to aid cooling and ventilation.
6.18 Proposals for new buildings should consider this at an early stage of the design process and use building layouts that maximise the number of dual aspect units delivered. The size of glazed areas should be adjusted to avoid overheating, particularly on south and west-facing elevations, which receive more sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Other measures to shield the impacts of afternoon sun should be an integral part of the building design.
Safe and attractive environments
6.19 To assist with delivering active frontages and improving social interaction within larger residential developments, buildings should be designed to have multiple cores that access directly onto the street at the front of the building. Reducing the number of units served by a core area will provide better opportunities for residents to meet and get to know their neighbours and to develop stronger local communities. Shared internal areas should be light and airy and provide sufficient circulation space for residents to pass each other easily and for informal social interaction.
6.20 It is important that residents have somewhere safe and convenient for package and parcel delivery. Where possible, this should be located within the buildings on the ground floor of each core. Other large item and cycle storage should be conveniently located, easily accessible and safe, so that residents feel comfortable using it. The best location is within the building and on the ground floor of the core area. If this cannot be achieved, then storage should be located close to the buildings, visible from the buildings and secure. External refuse and recycling and cycle storage should be located to minimise visual and physical obstruction, whilst being easily accessible for residents and operatives.
6.21 To provide attractive environments and buildings it is important to consider the location of services, utilities, down pipes and gutters carefully and early in the design process so that they are an integral part of the design. Where possible, service and utility boxes and pipes should be located inside buildings with access to boxes from communal areas on the ground floor. On taller buildings the removal of excess rainwater from the roof of buildings to the drainage network should be integrated into the building and external gutters and downpipes avoided. On a more domestic scale, buildings external downpipes and gutters should be carefully positioned to avoid a cluttered appearance.
6.22 Internal space standards and amenity space standards are set out in Policy HO3.10 Building Standards for New Homes and Policy HO3.11 Private and Communal Outdoor Amenity Space. Policies relating to sustainable construction are located in Chapter 8 'A Climate Emergency'.
Policy QD6.4: Building Design
Well-designed buildings that are visually attractive, functional, accessible, sustainable, mitigate climate change, and which reflect the character and wider objectives for the area will be supported.
Enhancing character and identity
New buildings are to positively contribute towards the local area using the following design principles:
- In areas where the local character and identity has been eroded, the design of new buildings should enhance the positive and improve the negative qualities of the area;
- The proportions of new buildings need to be appropriate to the existing or emerging character of the area;
- Façades and their detailing are to have a positive relationship with the street, be of a human scale, reflect its role and function and enhance the character of the area;
- Materials should be of high quality, robust, durable, age well, reflect their function and sit comfortably with buildings in the area, adding to local distinctiveness.
Safe, healthy and attractive internal and external environments
New residential buildings should be designed to provide internal and external spaces that support the health and wellbeing of all those who use and experience them. New building design should adhere to the following:
- All ground floor units to be designed so that the primary access for each individual unit is directly on to the street;
- Include a high proportion of dual aspect units to create quality internal spaces, able to receive good light and air ventilation and, where possible, avoid using a single aspect form;
- Internal layouts should provide for working at home, implementing the technical internal space standards; this could be the inclusion of space within individual dwellings for a home office, or a shared workspace within the building;
- Internal cores are to serve no more than eight units.
Getting the details right: storage, waste, servicing and utilities
All new developments will be designed so they are effective and attractive by meeting the following criteria:
- Access to service and utility boxes should be inside the building and avoid unnecessary clutter; where this is not possible they should be an integral part of the design;
- Refuse and recycling should be located within the building envelope; where this cannot be achieved, bin stores which are carefully positioned, easy to use and attractive should be provided;
- Secure provision for parcel receipt and storage should be provided on site;
- The location of drainpipes and gutters and pipes for services and utilities should be integrated into the wider design, to avoid a cluttered appearance.
Building height and taller development
6.23 To meet the borough's need for new homes and jobs the Local Plan anticipates development coming forward at higher densities than currently exist across the borough. This means Watford is more likely to see new buildings that are taller than the existing prevailing height within an area.
6.24 The Tall Buildings Study (2021) examines the prevailing height of existing buildings across a series of defined character areas and the likely base building heights that will need to be achieved in order to meet the need for homes and jobs across the borough. The findings have been drawn from an assessment of relevant factors, including: an area's sensitivity to taller buildings and suitability for them; consideration of strategic growth designations; and potential visual impacts of tall buildings when seen within the townscape including important views). The report provides an evidence-driven approach, which establishes appropriate thresholds for base building heights in each character area for future development.
6.25 Base building heights are not intended to act as an absolute 'cap' on the height of new buildings but instead set a presumption in favour of developments where the predominant height falls within the threshold set for that character area. Four distinctive character areas have been identified including:
- Watford Gateway: Potential development sites within Watford Gateway are generally less constrained by their urban context, particularly in the area around Watford Junction Station. They are well connected to the local and strategic transport network, and higher density and mixed-use development is generally appropriate here. The Watford Junction area is relatively low lying, while Clarendon Road is characterised by buildings taller than the surrounding area. The station area is a key node with limited sensitivity and excellent access to public transport; strengthening the role of Clarendon Road as a gateway into the town centre through good design and use of buildings with added height can make a contribution towards this. Sites in this area will be expected to make a significant contribution to streetscape and connectivity improvements, particularly the transformation of the ring road. Proposals that adjoin existing residential areas will need to demonstrate a transition between the two areas.
- Town Centre: The Town Centre contains a diverse range of uses, buildings and public spaces. The area is suitable for higher density development in the right locations, however, this needs to be appropriate to the site and its surroundings and to clearly justify why a site is suitable for a taller building. Proposals will need to be explicit as to why a taller building is appropriate for the location. This includes demonstrating which landmark, node or location the building is marking; how it relates to and enhances the existing built form, including scale and massing; how the frontage will positively contribute towards the public realm and place-making; in locations near the High Street, how it relates to the shopping area and provides a quality living environment; and how the proposal has responded to heritage assets that may be affected by the proposal.
- Colne Valley: The Colne Valley area has a greater sensitivity to building height and proposals will need to consider the local topography and views across the area. Proposals should embed place-making aspirations to open up the river, protect and enhance existing or future views and mitigate sensitivities associated with biodiversity. On larger sites, through a masterplan approach, well designed schemes may identify opportunities that maximise changes in topography to achieve additional height.
- Areas outside the Core Development Area: These areas have an established character and the prevailing height is lower. Proposals will need to clearly demonstrate how they relate to the existing character and make a positive contribution towards the area. In very limited cases, specific locations might be suitable for taller elements above the proposed base building heights. However, in the absence of significant improvements to public transport accessibility, building heights and density are likely to be more modest. Locations outside the Core Development Area where taller elements may be appropriate include:
- Ascot Road, where a character for taller buildings has been established; and
- On large sites close to the Dome Roundabout, which is a key entry point to the town.
6.26 Where a proposed building would exceed the base building height for the area, this will need to be clearly justified and will be subject to detailed consideration under the criteria set out within the Building Height Policy. To demonstrate why a proposal for a taller building should be supported the starting point should be to demonstrate that the location is appropriate, based on an evaluation and assessment of suitability and sensitivity, as set out in the Tall Buildings Study:
- Suitability: Proposals should demonstrate the suitability of the proposals in relation to excellent public transport and cycling accessibility, proximity to town centres or local facilities, access to green spaces and designations for strategic development.
- Sensitivity: Proposals must consider potential impact on designated and undesignated heritage assets, views, ecological assets and greenspaces.
6.27 Proposals that involve higher densities should be based on careful consideration of local character, context and access to amenities and public transport. Relevant plan policies include: housing and amenity space (Chapter 3 'Homes for a Growing Community'); design (Chapter 6 'An Attractive Town'); and heritage (Chapter 7 'The Historic Environment'); sustainability and climate change (Chapter 8 'A Climate Emergency'); open space (Chapter 9 'The Environment') and sustainable transport (Chapter 11 'Sustainable Transport Town'). The approach to building heights should also be considered alongside the Spatial Strategy and Local Plan objectives (Chapter 1 'Spatial Strategy for Watford') and aspirations for the Strategic Development Areas (Chapter 2 'Core Development Area').
Exceptional design, high quality living environments and community benefits
6.28 Where consideration of the suitability and sensitivity of a site suggests that a taller building, or built element, may be justified proposals will need to demonstrate how they will deliver exceptional design quality, high quality living environments and public benefits for the town and community.
6.29 Taller buildings can have a significant impact on townscapes and views and therefore, in relation to their prominence, it is important that taller buildings are of the highest design quality. To ensure taller buildings are of exceptional design, applicants should make appropriate use of tools and processes for assessing and improving the design of their proposals, including making use of design review. More specifically, when taller buildings are designed, they should demonstrate that consideration has been given to the three main elements: base, mansard and pop-up. Guidance should refer to the specific massing rules that apply to each of these elements, as set out in the Tall Buildings Study.
6.30 Buildings that would be taller than the base building height for their area will also be required to demonstrate their positive contribution in terms of public benefits to the town and the community. These benefits should clearly exceed the benefits that could be achieved for a building that would be lower than the base height for the appropriate area. These benefits should include, but may not be limited to:
- Provision of affordable housing and a good mix of dwelling sizes;
- Provision of infrastructure, including public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure and social infrastructure to support communities' health and wellbeing, including public open space and access to services and facilities;
- Building to high environmental standards, with comfortable internal living environments that provide good air ventilation, daylight and minimise overheating;
- Maximising opportunities to generate energy, using low-carbon and renewable sources and taking advantage of the scale of development;
- Make a positive contribution towards place-making, including measures to reflect local character and signify a recognisable landmark; and
- How the building will contribute towards Watford as a place, in terms of distinctiveness, design quality and how this relates to the urban form.
Definition of prevailing height and taller building thresholds
6.31 The Tall Buildings Study has identified future prevailing building heights in all parts of the borough. This has been used to inform an approach where higher density development up to a certain height will not be defined as a taller building. This is referred to as the 'base building height' and is set out as the number of storeys. This base building height for each respective area reflects the balance between existing character, constraints and opportunities (Table 6.2). Buildings at this height or lower will not be assessed against Policy QD6.5'Building Height', but will need to comply with other policies in the Local Plan. Where a building is proposed that exceeds the appropriate base building height, it will be defined as a 'taller building' and will trigger the implementation of Policy QD6.5 'Building Height' alongside other Local Plan policies.
Area of the borough
Base building height
Up to 8 storeys on a street frontage, stepping up to 10 storeys to the rear.
Town Centre Strategic Development Area
Up to 5 storeys on the High Street, stepping up to 8 storeys to the rear.
Colne Valley Strategic Development Area
Up to 6 storeys.
Outside of the Core Development Area
Up to 4 storeys.
Policy QD6.5: Building Height
Proposals for buildings that exceed the base building height set out in Table 6.1 will be classified as a taller building.
Proposals for taller buildings should clearly demonstrate:
- Exceptional design quality, including height, massing, proportion, materials, detailing, site layout and its relationship with the surrounding area, which set it apart in terms of quality and distinctiveness, and which positively contribute towards the context and character of the area;
- Significant public benefits that the development will provide, clearly setting out why these would not be achievable as part of a development restricted to the base building height;
- Significant sustainability benefits including the building design, construction, operation and connections to the surrounding area;
- A clear townscape rationale for the specific siting of taller buildings, marking key locations or nodes, and responding to public transport accessibility and activity;
- A positive relationship with relevant heritage assets and their setting and the historic character that contributes to the town's distinctiveness;
- A desire to achieve a specific skyline shape or cluster;
- That proposals have been designed to avoid harmful impacts on daylight, sunlight, wind conditions, overheating and microclimate, including the provision of appropriate mitigation where required;
- That appropriate amenity and play spaces are incorporated to a high standard for all residents;
- That the setting of the development will not be dominated by car parking as a result of the higher density. In this context, a car-lite approach should be taken where this would be an appropriate response to higher local public transport accessibility;
- A balanced and comprehensive approach to servicing to avoid impact on local streets and spaces.
Proposals for tall buildings are unlikely to be accepted in Outline form.