The population of County Durham is relatively stable although there are some areas with declining populations, principally in the east and west, and areas where population growth is projected. Demographic changes and changing patterns of occupancy create pressure for new housing development in most parts of the county, but generally at relatively modest levels. Some of this new development will be accommodated on ‘brownfield’ or redundant sites within towns and villages but some will take place on ‘greenfield’ sites on the edges of existing towns and villages.
New housing development can bring changes – positive or negative – to the rural and urban landscape in a number of ways.
- Rural or urban fringe countryside – often of value to local residents – may be lost to permanent development.
- Mature landscapes and landscape features like hedgerows and hedgerow trees may be lost directly, or indirectly in the widening of roads and junctions.
- The character of the wider landscape may be affected by the visual intrusion of new urban areas or settlement edges and its tranquillity eroded by increased noise levels and lighting.
- Local distinctiveness may be weakened by the introduction of ‘generic’ housing styles or alien building materials.
- The physical separation between settlements and sense of separate identity may be eroded.
- The physical form of settlements may be changed by infill development with the loss of open green spaces, mature gardens and trees.
- Pedestrian circulation within settlements can be obstructed by ‘introspective’ housing layouts.
- Large scale developments can shift established neighbourhood centres.
- The rural character of the surrounding countryside may be weakened by new recreational activities and increased traffic levels on quiet country roads.
- The structure and appearance of towns and villages – particularly former mining settlements – can be improved by filling gaps in the urban fabric and creating new attractive green spaces and settlement edges.
It is important that the form, pattern and detailing of new residential development respects the character of local landscapes and the vernacular of local townscapes and makes a positive contribution to the sustainability of settlements and communities.
Issues and Objectives
Planning for New Development
The Regional Spatial Strategy sets the strategic framework for the provision of land to meet housing needs. District Wide Local Development Plans and emerging Local Development Frameworks (LDFs) allocate specific sites for new housing and contained more detailed policies. The overall objective of local planning policies is to accommodate new housing on land within or well related to the main towns, or in other towns and larger villages where it is consistent with their scale and function. Priority is given to the redevelopment of derelict or redundant sites. The Landscape Assessment and Strategy are contributing to the preparation of Local Development Frameworks, informing the identification of allocations for housing and providing guidance on landscape issues.
- To inform LDF policies and housing allocations.
Guiding New Development
The impacts of new development on the urban and rural landscape are heavily influenced by the details of site selection and design. The Landscape Character Assessment provides baseline information on landscape character which can be used to inform these processes, but further detailed guidance is needed on residential design in different landscapes. Building-in Sustainability, the regional guide to sustainable building and development, provides guidance on how to adopt sustainability principles in building works. Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD) are being proposed as part of Local Development Frameworks to give further guidance on design issues. In some circumstances Village Design Statements produced by local people may be a useful tool for guiding development in settlements where there is significant development pressure.
- To inform and support the development of a Supplementary Planning Documents dealing with design issues.
- To encourage the preparation of ‘Village Design Statements’ by local communities.
Mature Landscape Features
New development in the countryside, or within settlements on sites like old gardens, often brings buildings close to mature trees and hedges. Incorporating existing features into a housing layout can give it maturity and character but they can be damaged by building works, and can be lost in the future if their proximity to buildings wasn’t fully catered for at the design stage. Where the loss of mature features, and particularly hedges, cannot be avoided, alternatives like translocation, or planting or managing features in the surrounding area can be undertaken to offset unavoidable impacts.
- To encourage the retention and safeguarding on mature landscape features – and particularly mature trees and hedges – on development sites
- To encourage off-site mitigation of impacts on local landscape character
New development can make a positive contribution to the structure, pattern and functioning of existing settlements and their relationship to the surrounding countryside. New urban green spaces can be created within the settlement and new community woodlands in the urban fringe. Connections within and between settlements in the form of new footpaths and cycle ways can be created. New wildlife habitats can be developed, for example as part of Sustainable Urban Drainage schemes. Good design and high quality detailing in the landscaping of spaces between new buildings can make a valuable contribution to the quality of the urban environment.
- To encourage positive contributions to the sustainability and quality of life of local communities from new development.
- To encourage high standards of design and detailing in the landscaping of new development.