Urban Design | Colchester Borough Council

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Urban Design


If you are building a major development, an important aspect of the planning process is the urban design.


  • Useful guides on Urban Design
  • Important aspects to take into consideration

If you are building a major development, an important aspect of the planning process is urban design.

Basic urban design skills should be more disseminated throughout the planning system.

Read more on the Government's site

Read "By Design" guidance

Urban Design Service

We offer urban design services to applicants who are entering into pre-application discussions on major developments. What's this?

This will help add value to your schemes, as well as identifying and resolving issues that can be addressed as early as possible.

Reinforcing local distinctiveness remains a high priority under the National Planning Policy Framework. However, defining what this is can prove problematic. We also want to see "places for people" as the quality of places where we live, work and visit has a major influence on our quality of life.

Our place making process is about creating great places that people will enjoy.

Physical Environment

Urban Design is not just a matter of architecture. It combines all the elements of the physical environment (streets, spaces, landscape and built form) in an integrated design.

This requires a good understanding of the place, how it works and the ability to recognise and harness the opportunities available to make successful places.

However, it should also be recognised that successful places are not just built, but they develop and flourish over time.

Successful Place

In order to meet the quality of development that is expected, proposals must show how they will create a successful place by meeting urban design principles as required according to the scale, complexity and sensitivity of the scheme.

It is expected that applicants demonstrate how their proposals have had regard to the design process and responded.

Our aim is to ensure all new developments are successful places.

Movement Network

The early design choices are critical to putting in place a well-reasoned and practical movement network that meets the needs of all its users:

  • Reasonable access throughout a development provides users with a choice of movement.
  • Short local trips provide the best opportunities for journeys on foot or bicycle (active travel) so these routes should be more direct than those for cars.
  • Connecting developments with the surrounding streets and neighbourhoods allows them to physically integrate with and function as part of the established settlement, both socially and economically.
  • Successful places recognise and accommodate the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and other vehicles. They encourage walking and cycling as the primary modes of travel for local trips making it easy to choose active travel or access public transport.
  • Bus stops are usually found within a reasonable walking distance (normally 400m), via safe routes and provided with bus shelters to encourage their use

Built Environment

All schemes should make a positive addition to the built environment in terms of townscape and visual interest.

Buildings should relate to each other and the spaces and other elements around them, such as landscape.

Often the places we find most interesting have developed incrementally providing layers of texture and combine to create attractive townscapes.

A carefully planned scheme may exhibit similar qualities provided this is not undermined by the standardisation of housing with an emphasis on utility, economy and function, limiting the potential for incidental occurrences to stimulate, surprise or delight to monotonous and uninteresting new places.

It should be the aim of those involved in the development process to ensure that the design of their proposals creates new townscape that is a meaningful and worthy addition to the settlement.

Local Characteristics

We expect applications to respond to the individuality of places in respect of local characteristics such as building forms, materials, traditions, street patterns and spaces to inform the approach to the design.

Streets should be designed around townscape principles, creating enclosure of space with well-defined edges, a key view terminated by a building that is sited and designed for this purpose and external materials of quality that reinforce the local distinctiveness of the area.

Recognisable Features

Making places legible makes them easy to understand and navigate so that people have a clear mental image of the place.

They should include recognisable features that help give them a sense of place and make them memorable. Memorable spaces may contain a focal point such as a piece of public art or a mature tree.

Key nodal points may comprise one or more main routes that coincide with the provision of a distinctive public space, containing a notable landmark building.

Thresholds to private areas should use devices (such as changes in surfaces) to define the extent of the defensible space. Psychologically, this gives the impression that the area beyond is private.


Successful places contain landmarks, such as important buildings, distinctive public spaces, public art, mature trees and views to these features. They distinguish important nodal points or junctions with distinctive spaces, often associated with activity and movement.

They also incorporate movement along conspicuous routes and edges that are easy to recognise and follow, such as main roads Routes should be clear, direct and attractive places, not cramped, poorly overlooked, indirect or unwelcoming (as that would attract anti-social behaviour.

We want to see active streets that are easy for people to find their way around and that link to local destinations. These are well lit and overlooked by surrounding buildings and uses to provide a sense of natural surveillance and safety. They demonstrate clear definition between public and private spaces.


Developments should create places of character based upon an appreciation of the site and surrounding area, responding positively to its natural and built context.

Character is also influenced by factors such as architectural style, materials and traditions, relationship of buildings to landscape, history and economy. These factors combine to create places that are distinctive and specific to their location.

New housing development is often seen as bland with little character, and unable to respond positively to its context. Many fail to create any sense of place and could be designing for anywhere. Where a weak or negative character exists designers should draw inspiration from positive aspects of the wider context to design proposals that are appropriate to the locality, rather than recreate an existing poor design.

In some circumstances the design may need to depart from the local context and character (although it should not be ignored) to create a highly innovative, or energy efficient design. Such proposals must be explained and justified and will be assessed on their individual merits.

Local Distinctiveness

Local distinctiveness relates to places, their qualities and peoples attachments to them. It is both physical and cultural and can seem intangible yet we are able to recognise its appeal when we see it. However, the interest and richness of places is diluted with standardisation and the associated loss of the integrity and detail that people value.

Detail in everyday things is important. People respond to subtle signs that add layers of richness and meaning to a place. Local distinctiveness is not necessarily about beauty but it must be about integrity. Retain, reuse and enhance buildings, structures or features of historic, archaeological or local interest.

Where appropriate the settings of such elements should be maintained and recognise and retain important views. The features that contribute to a place are rooted in its setting. These include relationships between materials, location and building function; landscape character, architectural forms, and traditions related to local sources of materials and craftsmanship.

Character Areas

In larger scale developments character areas may be devised to differentiate between different parts of the site, assist legibility and avoid large areas of repetitious housing. This may influence the mix of uses, density and pattern of development.

Character areas should not be artificial creations or based upon alien designs or features from elsewhere otherwise they will appear 'forced' and inauthentic.

They should be a genuine response to the place, its characteristics, constraints and the distinctive qualities of the area. This will provide integrity and reinforce local identity.

Walkable Neighbourhoods

Proposals should also provide walkable neighbourhoods that are located within easy walking distance of local facilities within an approximate 10 minute (800m) walking distance.

Some facilities command greater catchments although these become less accessible on foot with increased distance.

It is reasonable to expect some facilities within a short walking distance of a residential area, such as a children's playground, whereas people are prepared to walk further to reach other key facilities such as a local centre or a school. The average walking journey is 1km and not many people walk more than 2km.

Proposals must take account of steep gradients, the bendiness of the route and psychological factors such as how easy or difficult it might be to cross busy roads.

Green and Blue Infrastructure

Green and blue infrastructure should forge links with the wider network of green spaces whenever opportunities allow. For example:

  • Parks
  • Allotments
  • Woods
  • Rivers
  • Ponds

Proposals should integrate green and blue infrastructure into the development layout wherever possible as it provides many benefits including health, recreation and relaxation. They are also able to form part of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) and may have ecological value.

We expect proposals to retain and incorporate natural assets such as mature trees, hedgerows or watercourses as key features of the layout. Emphasis is also placed on spaces being multi-functional e.g. SUDS with swales and ponds can enhance the character of a development, have biodiversity and landscape value and be part of a network of recreational routes.

Related Documents
Things to Know before you Apply

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