South Oxfordshire Design Guide shortlisted for 2 awards

South Oxfordshire Design Guide

The South Oxfordshire Design Guide has been shortlisted for 2 awards: Urban Design Group 2017 awards and RTPI Planning Excellence 2017 Awards.


We assisted South Oxfordshire District Council in an exciting project to create a visually stimulating, concise and innovative new design guide. The aspiration was to break the mould of the traditional design guide and enthuse, inspire and inform the readers about good quality design and how to achieve it. Raising the quality of development in the district ultimately underpinned this aspiration and the Council wanted to be a leading example for other councils and anyone who has an interest in design. It also wanted to provide reassurance to the residents of South Oxfordshire that the Council takes good design seriously and strives to achieve this from developers.

The Council had an existing design guide which was written in 2008 but it did not reflect some of the latest best practices. Having 204 pages, readers often found it difficult to engage with and absorb all of the relevant information in such a large document. Significantly, the guide also did not cover larger residential development schemes which are becoming increasingly common in the district.


The new 54 page guide has a very clear, succinct and legible structure. The reader is taken through the process of designing a scheme from start to finish in an order that the Council consider to be best practice, realistic and logical. To begin with, great emphasis is placed on the importance of contextual analysis and the reader is asked
to look within but also beyond the red line of the application site. The reader is then taken on a design journey by reviewing the different stages in a development of a site  through the different morphological layers which are each applied and discussed in turn. These are then brought together culminating in a contextually robust masterplan (3). Common design issues are identified and potential solutions, tips and links to additional resources are provided throughout the document.

In deciding to replace the previous guide, the Council felt very strongly that the new guide should be concise to have the best chance to engage with the reader, allowing them to access the relevant information quickly and easily.

Such an aspiration was perhaps the biggest challenge in writing the document and meant that every word and graphic had to be relevant. We worked very closely with the Council to achieve this and the guide is a much more visual document relying on illustrations, plans and photos to convey important messages and provide explanations rather than detailed text. The images also seek to inspire the reader by using good examples and, through their purposefully chosen hand drawn style, appear accessible, reminding the reader that it is not always necessary to produce computer generated plans to explore and present ideas.

The main guide also sets out key definitions, such as how we define high quality development and it outlines the qualities and principles for achieving it. These principles are transferable to all scales of development.


The guide has been informed and amended following two phases of internal and then external public consultation with local residents, housebuilders and developers as well as built environment professionals. To ensure that the guide was relevant and to strengthen its potential to influence, it was crucial to understand what motivates the different audiences. For example, there was a need to persuade some developers of the real value of good design and of course, be realistic of the financial drivers. Right at the beginning of the guide therefore, there is an outline of what the Council considers to be the social, environmental and economic value of good design.

Like many other local authorities, the Council faces the challenge of repetitive schemes designed in a way that could be anywhere. One of the main areas of feedback received from the community during the consultation exercises related to a need for design to respect the local distinctiveness of South Oxfordshire. This, therefore, forms a significant focus for the guide. The reader is also reminded of the importance of considering the context during the design process throughout the design guide.



The design guide was adopted in November 2016 and subsequently shortlisted for The Urban Design Group 2017 Public Sector Design Award as well as the RTPI Planning Excellence Award

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