The applicant must demonstrate and clearly articulate how the proposed development respects or enhances local character and distinctiveness. This must be informed by an understanding of the site context, including any historic character assessment required to support the application.
Local character is derived from the interaction of many factors — built form, landscape, public spaces, history, nature, and cultural associations, as well as less tangible aspects like a sense of community.
Development should respond to and complement existing patterns of settlement type and layout (see Supporting Information for Information on Lake District settlement forms). In most cases these elements have developed over centuries and are an important part of the historic character of a place. The reasons for any deviation away from the existing historic pattern should be explained, together with active measures towards good placemaking.
Render finishes were reserved for the higher status buildings, such as this farmhouse, while barns and outbuildings were usually left as bare stone. Borrowdale.
Farm buildings often have a ‘rougher’ appearance than houses due to the bare stone. Here the external staircase is barely visible against the stonework. Hawkshead.
In the 18th century, polite architecture without render covering the stone would have been unthinkable. Hawkshead.
An uncommon example of a converted barn with limewash over the stonework. The shapes of the different materials can still be seen through the coating.
An example of a farm where the farmhouse is limewashed whereas the farm buildings are left as bare stone.
Here the farmhouse has a smooth render with lines struck into it to give the appearance of regular stone blocks. The adjacent barn has been left as bare sandstone (stained by a broken downpipe).
The classic hierarchy of materials: a limewashed and render farmhouse, a bare stone barn and the hardest to course stones used for the boundary wall.
Design of Buildings
Building type, form and detailing
The type, form and composition of new buildings must be rooted in local character. The design of developments must reflect the local vernacular architecture and traditions. Vernacular design is architecture based on local materials and traditions (where buildings were designed to meet functional needs).
Vernacular architecture varies across the Lake District in response to changes in the underlying geology, that influences not only the choice of local building material, but also built forms and methods of construction.
Information on common vernacular forms, and their distribution across the Lake District, can be found in the Supporting Information. Each settlement has a distinct architectural tradition depending on several factors, but common characteristics are:
Buildings sit low in the landscape. Generally, they are one or two storeys high in a rural setting, extending to three storeys in towns.
Constructed of local building material, which means that buildings harmonise with the surrounding landscape.
Slatestone is dominant across much of the Lake District and is associated with the characteristic ‘drystone’ appearance of many local buildings.
Slatestone is frequently left exposed.
Rough-cast render (often painted white or cream) is also common, especially in areas of Carboniferous limestone.
Traditional slate roofs are ubiquitous across the Lake District and are a significant part of the character of the region. These tend to be low pitched with either equal or asymmetric eaves. The latter is often associated with a cat-slide roof over an ‘outshut’ (or lean-to). Traditionally, the slates become smaller closer to the ridge, laid in diminishing courses.
Window locations are dictated by internal layout and not necessarily symmetrical. Windows are generally small with deep reveals and stone mullions. Sash windows are common in properties from the late-18th century onwards and these are well-recessed into the walls.
The nature of the local walling stone means openings in walls are well-spaced and kept to a necessary minimum. As a result, building elevations are dominated by the stone rather than glazing or large openings, except where the building function required large openings, such as farm buildings or boathouses.
Dormers are rare, except in towns.
Chimneys are a prominent feature. Gable end-stacks are characteristic of early buildings.
Water-tabling – a line of projecting slates to deflect water – is a typical Lake District feature.
Door designs vary considerably but generally feature a prominent lintel and stone jambs. Porches or a door canopy are common, intended to offer protection to visitors from the elements.
Buildings are orientated to reflect the constraints of the landscape and direction of prevailing weather patterns. This varies considerably from valley to valley.
Although these features are common there are many variations according to location and designs need to respond appropriately to the specific traditions of the area. This is not intended to stifle contemporary design or encourage pastiche, but simply show how a design has been inspired by local character. Information on common vernacular forms, and their distribution across the National Park, can be found in the Supporting Information.
In areas where there is a wider variety of architectural styles, particularly those areas of 19th and early 20th century expansion around the edges of towns, design cues should still be taken from the prevailing architectural forms of the area. However, detailing should be consistent with architectural style, and mixing features within a building should be avoided. In all cases, design must be informed by analysis of context and local character.
The type, form and composition of new buildings must be rooted in local character. Where development sits within the historic core of a settlement, design must reflect the local vernacular tradition (where buildings were designed to meet functional needs). This varies across the National Park in response to changes in the underlying geology, that influences not only the choice of local building material, but built forms and methods of construction.
Contemporary design built as a traditional terrace of three houses.
Large windows on southern elevation and smaller windows to north promote passive solar gain and reduce heat loss.
Local slate roof, and roughcast render finish references the locality, with timber cladding a contemporary addition.
Simple main roof plan with chimneys adding interest to the skyline. Gabled roof forms and overhanging roofs.
Articulation of the building line and changes in materials identify the individual dwellings.
The private south side is an active frontage through its windows and patio doors, while the north side is active due to the front doors being located here. Functional porches announce the entrance to each house.
Private raised patios for each dwelling, with less formal gardens beyond.
Simple communal parking area is more sympathetic to local character than driveways and garages.
The pitch or angle of a roof has a large impact on how a building looks and fits in with its surroundings. The roof pitches of new development must respond positively to its townscape context, for example, by matching neighbouring buildings. Where slates are used roof pitches must not be lower than 22.5º. If the slates are laid shallower than this, rain will run off more slowly and can find its way under and between slates.
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Roof pitches should not exceed 50º. Steeper roof pitches are rare and tend to be limited to Victorian buildings and chalet-style dwellings.
The typical roof pitch used in traditional buildings in the Lake District is 30º to 35º and will therefore be appropriate in most circumstances.
Roof pitches should not be shallower than 27º. Shallow roof pitches are rare in the Lake District, and shallow roofs are therefore unlikely to reflect or contribute to local character.
The roof pitches of projections, particularly catslide roofs that are often found in the Lake District, should match or be similar to the roof pitch of the main roof of the house.
4. The roof pitch of the catslide roof can either continue the slope of the main roof or be slightly shallower (e.g., by 5º) to slow runoff and increase headroom under the catslide roof.
5. Lean-to extensions should generally have the same or a similar roof pitch to the main roof of the house.
The ratio of the height to width of a window sets the shape and proportion of window openings. New development must incorporate window proportions that show a positive response to their context, by reflecting the proportions of the existing building.
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In this illustration:
The proportion of an existing window opening is taller than it is wide, giving the window opening a vertical emphasis. In most cases, traditional window openings are noticeably taller than they are wide as this works best with sliding sash windows or windows hinged on the side that swing open.
This proposed new window opening is smaller than the existing window, but it has the same proportion (i.e., ratio of height to width) as the existing window, and so provides a positive response.
The proposed new window has a proportion that is noticeably squashed, and squat compared to the existing window. This is not a positive response to the existing window proportion.
The number of windows and the spacing of windows on an elevation has a big impact on how a building looks. Most houses in the Lake District have a rhythm of evenly spaced window openings that give elevations a pleasing and balanced appearance, as shown in the illustration.
4. The right-hand part of the elevation looks noticeably ‘busier’ than the rest of the house due to the number of small windows squashed into this part of the building. It detracts from the character of the whole elevation.
5. All parts of the building have a similar layout of windows giving a harmonious appearance.
Windows and doors often make the most difference to the finished appearance of a new building, extension or conversion, and are manufactured in a range of materials. The most common are wood, uPVC and powder coated aluminum.
Wooden window frames and doors will normally represent the most appropriate and sustainable option. They can be designed in ways to respect the character of any building and can be painted and repainted in any colour without replacement. If looked after and properly maintained, they will last for many years. They can be constructed to be as secure and weather-proof as uPVC windows.
UPVC and composite windows and doors come in a limited range of colours and designs. Storm casement uPVC windows (where the opening pane overlaps the frame) are the cheapest and most common window frame in use but they result in the least satisfactory appearance on Lake District houses. Because they are not symmetrical, they cannot replicate the appearance of a traditional casement window or a later sliding sash window which are normally symmetrical in appearance.
The use of standard uPVC storm casement windows is only likely to be acceptable in a limited range of circumstances where their use has no overall impact on the character of the building or the wider area.
Significant advancements have been made in UPVC windows. Both convincing high quality sliding sash windows and flush fitting casement uPVC windows (where the opening part of the window sits flush within the frame) which replicate traditional window types are now available. These will be considered on a case-by-case basis but will nearly always represent a more appropriate option than a uPVC storm casement window.
Powder coated aluminium frames come in a large range of colours. They are also thinner than uPVC windows so have a wider range of uses. They are often used successfully on contemporary buildings.
The colour of windows and doors is an important part of the appearance of a building.
Darker colours are more appropriate for barn conversions rather than hew housing schemes because it is often necessary to reduce the impact of new windows and doors as far as possible, to avoid compromising the agricultural character of the building.
Anthracite Grey (dark grey) is currently a very popular choice. This colour tends to work well on contemporary rendered buildings, providing a contrasting colour with lighter rendered walls. However, it provides no contrast with buildings which have darker walls or stone walls.
Whites and off-whites which provide a strong contrast with local stone walls are normally the most appropriate choice but a range of colours including light greys, greens and blues will complement the subtle colours found in local slate and stone.
Where planning permission is not required for the replacement of windows and doors, we strongly advise that existing traditional or original windows are retained and refurbished where possible but that any replacement considers the appropriateness of the design, materials and colour to the character of the building and the area and also takes into account longevity, value for money and carbon footprint.
Internal shutters were the traditional means of controlling heat levels and providing security
Modern style ‘tilt and turn’ casements and anthracite grey finish give an anonymous character to window openings.
Good quality timber can provide both long-lasting frames and delicate details like these thin glazing bars.
Windows are often referred to as “the eyes” of a building because they make such an impact on its character and appearance.
A well-made traditional door can last indefinitely if maintained.
uPVC and composite doors have limited scope for repair or upgrade and must therefore be replaced as soon as they fail or look tired and old. This is a much less sustainable option.
Windows and Glazing: Light Spill and Glare
The distribution, size and design of window openings, glazed doorways or other glazed apertures in new houses must:
Avoid light spill into the night skies. This is intrusive to both the landscape and the dark skies.
Prevent any large areas of glazing from being highly reflective and causing glint and glare in low-level sunlight. This can be particularly visually intrusive on settlement edges and on buildings in open rural contexts that can be seen over longer distances.
The darkness of the night skies is a key characteristic of the Lake District that reflects its rural character. The skies achieving complete darkness is also of ecological importance.
The unwanted impacts of light spill and highly reflective glazing can be avoided via the following measures:
Recessing glazing within the wall as far as is practical.
Using features of the building, like projecting eaves or hoods directly over windows to cast additional shadow onto the glazing.
Using anti-reflective glazing. This is particularly effective where the aim is to make large areas of glass frameless, minimal or ‘invisible’.
Using the thinner varieties of double or triple glazing that have narrower air gaps between the inner and outer panes. Standard double glazing with a 24mm air gap has a noticeably stronger reflectivity than glazing with a 12mm air gap. The thinnest glazing units use an argon-filled or vacuum-sealed gap, which conduct less heat than air and so are narrower than air-filled glazing units.
On larger openings, using chunky and strongly projecting frames that break up the plane of glass and provide shadow.
Where they form a coherent part of the overall building design, external shutters are a form of heat control that also assists with light spill and glare. On winter nights they keep heat and light inside when closed, but on hot and sunny days they keep intense sunlight and heat from reaching the glass when closed.
On less conspicuous or private garden elevations, fixed or temporary canopies and awnings or permanent veranda-style structures can provide shade to windows or large glazed openings and avoid glare.
The colour and textures of materials in new development must harmonise with the local character and landscape, although this does not prevent the use of both to add focus and interest to the streetscape where justified.
Stone used for the walls of buildings must match the type, appearance and method of laying that is most prevalent in the area. Only where it is not possible to obtain stone which is typical of the area will alternatives be considered.
Roofing materials must be Westmorland green slate or blue grey slate laid in a traditional pattern of diminishing courses (where larger slates at the eaves gradually recede to the smallest slates at the ridge) and random widths.
Alternative roof coverings to local slate will only be considered in the following circumstances:
Where a roof is not open to public views and the building has limited landscape, historical and architectural significance.
Where the alternative roof covering is used sparingly as part of a cohesive design.
Where the context of the site and landscape character means that its use would not compromise sense of place.
In parts of Keswick where there is historical precedent for the use of Welsh slate and where its use would reinforce the importance of local character and sense of place.
Note the different sizes and shapes of local stone used for the walling of the building, the building corners and the boundary wall.
National policy and the Local Plan support development that reinforces local distinctiveness, character and sense of place.
One of the most important ways of establishing a sense of place in the built environment is through the use of materials, most importantly through roof and wall materials. These should be complimented with an approach to windows, doors, landscaping and boundaries which reflect the quality of the landscape and the importance of the built environment.
Unlike other areas of the country where building materials are often imported or manufactured, the appearance of buildings in the Lake District is a direct product of the geology beneath them.
Whether it’s distinctively pink Eskdale granite or it’s the greens and greys of Honister stone in the centre of Keswick, when planning a design for new house in the Lake District, looking at the roofs and walls of your neighbours is often all that is necessary to help inform what the most appropriate approach should be.
Most locally distinctive of all are the local slate roofs of the Lake District that can be seen covering the majority of buildings in the area and which make a significant contribution to sense of place, particularly when seen from above. Local slate has a thick gauge, rough hewn surface and distinctive pattern which all contribute to an appearance that is as locally distinctive when first laid as it is decades later.
The use of Westmorland green slate or blue grey slate will be informed by the immediate context of the site. Often, either option will be acceptable.
Imported slate is not an acceptable alternative to local slate. This is because it is likely to retain a smooth and uniform colour and texture which means it does not weather in the same way as local slates. As they are normally made to standard sizes and to a thinner gauge, they cannot replicate the variety found in a local slate roof and cannot replicate its appearance.
Where planning permission is not required for replacement or repair of an existing roof, we strongly discourage the use of imported slate because the incremental effect of changes which do not require planning permission is the erosion of local distinctiveness, character and sense of place.
If there are valid reasons to consider roof coverings other than local slate, alternative locally produced roofing materials are likely to be more appropriate than imported slate, when considered in terms of its appearance, longevity, value for money and carbon footprint.
Local blue grey slate is traditionally laid in courses that increase in size towards the eaves. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
Blue grey slate is one of the local naturally occurring building materials of the Lake District. Ravenglass. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
The difference between local blue grey slate (left) and imported Spanish (right) slate is visible. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
Hawkshead has a highly harmonious appearance due to the consistent use of local blue grey slate roofing. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
Local to the Lake District, this green-grey slate has a distinctive colour, and is laid in diminishing courses. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
The roof in front has replacement Brazilian slates while the one in the background is local green slate. The difference in coursing and texture is clear. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
In some parts of the Lake District, as here in Hawkshead, slate is hung on walls for protection from prevailing winds.
The local green slate is traditionally laid in diminishing courses. In this example the ridge tiles are stone.
Green slate continues to be quarried locally, so it can continue to give new development a local character and it weathers beautifully.
Welsh slate is rare in the Lake District. This Welsh slate roof has a purple heathery colour and a noticeably flatter plane, as these slates are thinner than Lake District slates.
Local blue grey slate is a locally distinctive building material that is still quarried in Cumbria. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
The walls of a building can often be as important to local distinctiveness, character and sense of place as its roof, especially within a dense town context or a tightly knit farm group when seen from road level. Wall finishes are functional, decorative and often both.
Local walling materials vary more obviously across the Lake District than roofing slate. Stone is less easy to transport and therefore historically, the easiest stone to build a house or barn from was the closest available. Walls were often built upon boulders or bedrock, with stone quarried from the nearest rock face or gathered from the land or nearby streams. Most buildings constructed in this way using ‘found’ rubble stone would historically have been externally finished with a lime render and limewashed.
Because it is a by-product of slate manufacture, slate stone remains the most common walling material for buildings in the Lake District, with limestone, granite and red sandstone used in outlying areas.
Roughcast render or ‘wet-dash’, or modern products which replicate its appearance, is the other most common walling finish. Roughcast render is used throughout the Lake District and its use as a wall finish is likely to be appropriate on a range of buildings, particularly where it is not possible to obtain stone to match nearby buildings.
If left to weather, the local stone beneath the render becomes exposed.
Local stone was often traditionally covered with layers of limewash, as this decaying historic example shows.
Limewash was often brightly or strongly coloured as in this recently restored example.
Another lime-based material, roughcast render, was used to cover stone and give a neater looking elevation.
It is called ‘roughcast’ because pebbles are mixed in with the lime to give a larger surface area for water to evaporate from in wet conditions.
Roughcast render is found across the Lake District. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
The combination of roughcast render, local slate and local stone boundary walls gives buildings a distinctly local character. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
Roughcast render is usually covered by a number of coats of limewash. Here is its bare appearance.
Locally quarried green stone walling combined with red sandstone that may well have been quarried at or near St Bees, Cumbria.
Note the different sizes and shapes of local stone used for the walling of the building, the building corners and the boundary wall.
The distinctive green-grey-brown local stone is used for walling across much of the Lake District. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
Here the boundary wall incorporates boulders of the local blue-grey stone, giving a particularly rural character.
Local blue grey slate stone is a by-product of the local roof slate industry and is used for walling. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
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A material found much more widely elsewhere in the north of England; sandstone is generally only found in the fringes of the Lake District as a walling material.
A slightly different limestone with red and purple colouration is found along the north-eastern fringe of the Lake District.
South Cumbrian limestone can be more easily shaped into regular blocks that the slate stone of the central Lake District. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
Alternative Materials for Roofs and Walls
It will be necessary to demonstrate that the use of materials other than local slate, stone and roughcast render is appropriate.
Metal wall cladding (including zinc, copper, lead, stainless steel and aluminium) and timber wall cladding or composite cladding products which mimic the appearance of timber are only likely to be acceptable where used sparingly as part of a cohesive design solution and where the context of the site and character of the landscape means that its use would not compromise sense of place.
Large areas of glazing do not reinforce local distinctiveness or sense of place. Large areas of glazing can also result in light pollution which both national policy and the Local Plan seek to avoid. In sensitive landscape locations the extensive use of glazing is unlikely to be acceptable.
Hard and soft landscaping and boundary features including gates fences and walls must respect landscape character and sense of place and must be included in all proposals where wider landscaping, new or altered accesses or new or altered boundaries are proposed.
Grey limestone is a material quarried around the southern fringes of the Lake District and used for walls and buildings. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.
With a large or prominent development in a sensitive area, the way the development interacts with the landscape beyond its boundaries can be equally as important as the appearance of the building itself. The entrance and boundary walls are the place where private space meets public and where the influence of your development on the landscape can be felt most.
Stone boundary walls are normally the most appropriate option. Stone used should reflect existing stone walls in the area in terms of type of stone and method of laying. Dressed stone is not normally used for boundary walls. Other boundary types such as native hedge planting will be considered where this is consistent with the other boundaries in the area.
Large entrances will rarely be appropriate in the context of small-scale vernacular buildings and in sensitive rural landscape locations.
Hard landscaping should be kept to a minimum and must take cues from the surrounding area, subject to associated constraints such as drainage and durability. The choice of surface must harmonise with local character particularly in terms of colour.
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.