Local character is derived from the interaction of many factors — built form, landscape, public spaces, history, nature, and cultural associations, and less tangible aspects like a sense of community. Understanding the physical, cultural and spiritual factors that shape place identity is a critical first step in the design of developments that preserve and enhance local character and make a positive contribution to placemaking.
The illustration below demonstrates how landscape character types may affect your development proposal:
Site Context and Assessment
Applicants need to understand the purpose of designations and refer to relevant national and local policies to ensure developments protect the integrity of these sites.
The heritage, design and access statement must identity whether the proposal falls within, or within the setting of, any other landscape, ecological, cultural and historic sites or designations.
These designations can be seen on our website’s interactive policies map. Applicants can also access interactive mapping through Defra's Magic website. It is good practice to include a Context Study and Site Assessment as part of the heritage, design and access statement. An example is provided in the site context illustration. The supporting information may help you prepare evidence to support the context study and site assessment.
A Context Study and site assessment should include (as appropriate to the site and development):
What is the Landscape Character Type / Area of Distinctive Character in which the scheme is located? (see Character types, above)
What is the topographical and geological character of the site and its surrounding area?
What is the settlement character of the surrounding area? For example, rural, hamlet or rural village, large village, market town.
What is the surrounding settlement pattern? For example, nucleated, linear (interrupted or continuous), dispersed or polyfocal.
What are the characteristics of the local community? What are the local amenities and facilities, for example shops?
How tranquil or busy is the place? Is it a focus for activity or an area of repose?
How well-lit is the place? Does it have street lighting? What other forms of lighting are there? Is light pollution a problem?
What is the current network and hierarchy of streets surrounding the scheme and how do these influence the character of the site?
What are the current public transport provisions within the surrounding area?
What are the current walking and cycling provisions within the surrounding area?
What are the current landscape and natural features within the surrounding area? This can range from trees and hedges on neighbouring properties to green spaces, lakes, woodlands and high fells within the surrounding area.
Are there any priority habitats and species (national or local) or designated ecological sites within the surrounding area?
What is the current provision of open space within the area?
What are the current water features within the surrounding area, including coastline, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and other water features?
What is the flood risk, including groundwater, fluvial, marine and surface water, of the surrounding area?
What mitigation measures are being deployed to prevent and minimise the risk of flooding?
What is the current density, urban grain and plot ratio of built form in the surrounding area? What building types are most common, for example detached, semi-detached, terraced etc.?
How are boundaries treated within the surrounding area? For example, dry stone walls, hedges, fences etc. Are any of these boundary treatments unsuccessful?
What are the current building lines of surrounding settlement? Are they uniform or staggered?
Do building frontages define the building line or are front gardens present?
What is the surrounding roofscape of surrounding settlement, including rooflines?
What are typical building heights within the surrounding area?
Are there any notable local buildings or landmarks within the surrounding area?
Are there any notable views or vistas within the surrounding area? Are there any notable views into and out of the site?
What is the current visual amenity of the surrounding area, i.e., the views and surroundings which create the backdrop to the area?
What is the local building vernacular?
What architectural details are common within the area? What is the proportion of these features?
What buildings materials are common, both for walls and roofs, within the surrounding area? Are there any local variations in colours, textures, shapes and patterns?
What are the different streets and character types of streets within the surrounding area? For example, village lane, market town high street, alleyway, back street, cul-de-sac etc.
What is the level of enclosure along surrounding streets?
Are there opportunities for social interaction or meeting places nearby? For example, villages greens or town squares.
Is there greenspace or greenery within the public realm? Does it have any value in terms of pollinators, wildlife, amenity or absorbing water or sound?
Are street trees a common occurrence within the surrounding area? If so, what form and species exist?
What is the current function of the site within the settlement or wider context? What are the current land uses both on and adjacent to the site?
Access points – How do access points relate to surrounding movement patterns, including by foot, bike and vehicle? Are there any rights of way through the site?
Landscape & ecology – Are there any existing natural features on site, for example trees, hedgerows, watercourses, ponds, other significant habitat? What is the boundary treatment of the site? How can these features be retained or enhanced? Are there any Tree Preservation Orders on site?
Topography – How does topography influence the layout of the site, drainage and both inward and outward views?
Drainage – How well does the site drain and can this provide an opportunity for SuDS and wildlife? Does the site adjoin a watercourse? Is the site prone to flooding?
Existing structures – Are there any existing structures on the site and what is the historic value of these structures? Are there opportunities to retain these structures or re-purpose materials? If demolition is required what is the reason for this?
Existing utilities – Are there existing utilities on site that will need to be considered in site layout?
Ground conditions – What is the geology of the site and is it permeable? What were previous land uses on the site? Is there the potential for contaminated land? Is the site likely to be of archaeological interest?
Noise & air quality – Is there the potential for noise and air pollution to affect future occupiers of the site?
Orientation – How does the path of the sun affect conditions on site and outward views? What is the existing microclimate on the site? Is there an opportunity to accommodate solar panels on the site to generate renewable electricity?
Click to zoom in
The meeting of two landscape character types, 'Upland Valley' and
'Rugged / Craggy Volcanic High Fell', at Hartsop. Located within the
Ullswater Valley, Hartsop is situated at the interface of three landscape
character sub-types, 'Enclosed Valley Side', 'Valley with River
Floodplain', and 'Valley with Lake'. Hartsop also falls within the
'Brother's Water and Hartsop' area of distinctive character.
The coastal village of Ravenglass is located within the 'High Fell
Fringe' landscape character type. The village overlooks the 'Estuary
and Marsh' landscape character type, which also falls under the
'Intertidal Flats' landscape character sub-type. The village also falls
within the 'Ravenglass and Bootle' area of distinctive character.
Surrounding fells create a backdrop in views towards houses. The sheer scale of this topography offers a contrast to the scale of built form and creates an abundance of vertical elements in views, creating a sense of enclosure when experienced from the valley floor.
Out on the coastal plain, built form is located on flat and low-lying topography. Vast skies form a backdrop in views towards houses and contributes towards a great sense of openness.
Snow-topped fells create a distinctive backdrop to new development in Grasmere, helping to nestle new built form into the surrounding landscape.
The elevated position of St Michael and All Angels Church creates a distinctive local landmark in views across the nucleated village of Hawkshead.
Existing public transport connections along the B5289 in Borrowdale.
Relationship of new and existing development with the River Kent in Staveley.
A varied and irregular building line, Hawkshead.
Mature trees help to integrate the street with the surrounding landscape. Varied building lines, front gardens, boundary treatments, street form and green infrastructure help to create a more diverse and interesting streetscape
A mixture of drystone walls, copses and hedgerows bound pastoral fields to the south of Coniston.
A townscape assessment can also help inform the site context. The numbers on the townscape assessment illustration correspond with the images below.
Click to zoom in
1. The lane has soft verges and is well-enclosed by buildings and drystone walls. The siting of the buildings gives an informal character.
2. The land widens out and is enclosed by buildings set at different angles.
3. A street tree provides a landmark, and the street space continues to be well enclosed, reducing traffic speeds.
4. Boundaries and vegetation occupy the break in the building line.
5. The different building angles, heights, materials, orientations and designs of buildings give an organic character.
6. The tight enclosure of the lane naturally slows traffic speeds and makes the view more interesting.
7. The character changes to a more regular line of detached houses but the street retains stone boundaries and a soft verge.
8. The linear character of the space continues, and informal parking spaces provide flexibility.
9. Turning around and looking back, the street has changed to having a regular building line.
10. The house type changes to mainly semi-detached houses. The density has increased, but the lane still has a linear and informal character.
11. Passing the last house, the rural lane character immediately resumes.
The applicant must consider how the proposal fits into the existing historic landscape setting. This will include not only consideration of visual intrusion and impacts but also any effects of contextual relationships, such as the link between a village and its medieval field system.
The heritage, design and access statement should include a historic character assessment that clearly demonstrates how the proposal responds to the existing neighbourhood and wider natural and cultural landscape of the area. The degree of detail and complexity of this will be proportionate to the size of the development and sensitivity of the site.
At the end of the process the applicant will be able to demonstrate how their proposal actively responds to the distinctive character and identity of an area and has been influenced by local building materials, scale and form, vernacular traditions and settlement pattern.
If the site is in an area covered by a Neighbourhood Plan or Conservation Area Management Plan in place, the proposed development should respond to any relevant design considerations provided in these documents. See Understanding Place: Historic Area Assessments (2017) for further guidance
The example Historic Character Assessment illustration shows what a typical assessment would include:
A discussion on location and landscape setting
Historic layout and street pattern – how the area has changed over time based on historic map analysis
Influence of local geology and topography e.g., agricultural practices, building material, settlement location
How the settlement relates to the surrounding countryside e.g., fields, back plots, access routes
Roads, railways and other communication routes
Built form and changes in architectural style over time
Existing and historic views and vistas, especially leading in or out of a settlement
Building materials and detailing
Open spaces, landscapes and trees
Public realm areas – including street furniture, lighting, boundary walls
Intangible elements which contribute to the areas ‘sense of place’ like a noisy marketplace or serene churchyard
New development must consider potential impacts on heritage assets (both designated and non-designated). This should be conducted early in the development process to inform overall design and identify possible constraints.
The heritage, design and access statement must clearly demonstrate an understanding of the significance and setting of any heritage assets affected by the proposal. Potential impacts (both direct and indirect) on that significance must be reviewed.
The degree of detail and complexity of this assessment will depend on the size of the development and sensitivity of the site. However, it should be suitable to enable an informed planning decision and not be simply a list of sites and features.
The potential for any heritage assets not yet recorded, included below ground archaeology
Discussion on how the development will affect the setting of a heritage asset must be included. This goes beyond a consideration of purely visual impacts to look at how change effects the way an asset is understood and experienced e.g., impact of increased traffic on the peace and quiet of a churchyard, or the design of a farm conversion on the agricultural identity of a farmstead or hamlet.
The Lake District National Park Authority looks after this unique corner of England, encouraging people to enjoy and understand its beauty and helping those who live and work here. Our staff include rangers and field workers, advisers at our visitor centres, planners and ecologists.