The importance of good design: climate change and conservation areas

14 Jan 2019

Planning and Environment

Inspector George Baird has dismissed a s.78 appeal made by Churchill Retirement Living against a refusal to grant planning permission for the proposed redevelopment of a horticultural nursery site to form 33 retirement apartments for the elderly and associated facilities.

Ben Du Feu appeared for Bristol City Council (‘the Council’) at the inquiry who were successful in resisting the appeal.

Among the main issues considered by the Inspector was whether the proposed development would accord with the objectives of the development plan with particular regard to adapting to the effects of climate change and the effect of the proposal on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.

Adaption to climate change

Bristol’s Core Strategy Policy BCS13 indicates that developments should in their design and construction provide resilience to climate change. The Inspector noted that national and local policy recognises that climate change will lead to more extreme weather conditions with hotter, drier summers and milder winters and that these effects can lead to residents of modern, well-insulated homes experiencing uncomfortably high internal temperatures i.e. overheating.

The Inspector agreed with the concerns of the Council’s expert sustainability officer that the appellant had failed to adequately demonstrate that the design/layout of the development could adapt to climate change. Accordingly, he found a conflict with the objectives of the NPPF and CS Policy BCS13.

This aspect of the decision is significant as it demonstrates that decision-makers will take seriously considerations of how a proposal has been designed to adapt to climate change.

It serves as a warning to developers to take such matters into account at an early stage of the design process. It may also give comfort to decision-makers who wish to take a robust approach to ensuring that the measures to adapt to climate change are adequately integrated into the design of new buildings.

Each instance will, of course, depend on the details of a given scheme and the policies in the development plan.

Character and appearance

The appeal site lies within the Shirehampton Conservation Area (‘CA’). The Inspector noted that the CA displays “a variety of character areas including the elegant 18th-century properties around The Green, the dreary modern shopping parade to the north-west, modern residential development on Avonwood Close and the distinctive Arts and Crafts style properties fronting Station Road.”

He found that: “In particular the architectural and historical pedigree of The Green and Station Road make a significant contribution to the significance of the CA.” The site is located in between the Green and Station Road and currently has a neutral impact on the character and appearance of the CA. However, the Inspector noted that the site, “has, if handled properly, significant potential to make a major contribution to the character and appearance of this CA by reinforcing local distinctiveness.”

In criticising the appearance of the scheme, he explained: “Here, good design is not about copying and mimicking the features of the existing buildings. Rather it is about interpreting and reflecting the relevant characteristics so as to reinforce local distinctiveness.” He agreed with the submission of the Council that the overall effect, in terms of design, materials and finish, fails, to adequately reflect the local distinctiveness of the CA and the Station Road character.

He found that the proposal would result in less than substantial harm which would be “towards the top end of the scale of less than substantial harm.” Weighing the public benefits of the scheme against this harm, whilst giving substantial weight to the provision of accommodation for the elderly, he found that the harm would not be out weighted.

A copy of the decision can be found here. Planning Magazine and The Planner have covered the case. 

Ben Du Feu is a member of the Cornerstone Planning Team and acts for both developers and local authorities in a wide range of planning matters.