Draft Local Plan October 2012

Landscape Character

7.2 West Oxfordshire is a predominantly rural district which embraces large areas of relatively unspoilt countryside and a diverse pattern of landscapes, including rolling uplands, river valleys, historic parkland, remnants of ancient forests, low-lying farmland and riverside meadows. The local distinctiveness and intrinsic quality of the landscape helps to define the sense of place, has been instrumental in shaping settlement patterns and provides an important resource, attracting people to live and work in the area, as well as contributing to the tourist economy. West Oxfordshire is renowned for its gentle scenic beauty, about a third of which has national recognition as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - part of the Cotswolds AONB.

7.3 Conserving and enhancing the quality of our landscape - whilst supporting suitably located and designed development necessary to promote the economic and social well-being of the area and its communities - are important objectives. Within the Cotswolds, great weight will be given to conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, landscape and countryside, not just within the AONB but also where development would affect its setting. Advice from the Cotswolds Conservation Board, including the Cotswolds AONB Management Plan (which has been endorsed as supplementary guidance) and Landscape Assessment, is invaluable.

7.4 The West Oxfordshire Landscape Assessment describes the landscape characteristics of the different areas within the District, giving guidance on landscape enhancement, planning and development. Figure 7.1 shows the 13 Character Areas identified in the assessment.

Figure 7.1 - Landscape Character Areas

Landscape Character Areas

7.5 This, together with guidance in the West Oxfordshire Design Guide SPD, the more detailed appraisals of the landscape setting of the main towns (undertaken to inform strategic site allocations) and the Oxfordshire Wildlife and Landscape Study (OWLS), should be used to inform development proposals and to ensure they respect the distinctive landscape character areas.

7.6 A fundamental influence upon the landscape is the underlying geology and soil which in turn affect biodiversity, agricultural land quality and productivity and water management. Protecting and enhancing our soil resources is particularly important in a predominantly rural area such as West Oxfordshire, is an essential element of sustainable development and is advocated by Government (for example, in its 'Safeguarding our Soils - A Strategy for England' and through the NPPF).

7.7 As one of the most wooded areas of Oxfordshire, groups and individual trees (including aged and veteran trees, often associated with historic parkland), hedgerows, coppices and woodlands make a fundamental contribution to the landscape and character of West Oxfordshire, as well as having their own intrinsic beauty and value. They add to the area's biodiversity, provide historic continuity and psychological wellbeing, soften the built environment and perform a useful role for the micro and macro climate and ecosystem, including contributing to the water and carbon cycles. It is important that these existing natural features and their settings are protected, managed and, where appropriate, supplemented by new planting, at the individual site-scale through to the wider landscape-scale.

7.8 It is not just physical features which affect landscape character; large parts of rural West Oxfordshire are noted for their peace and tranquillity. Pollution, especially noise and light, can undermine this 'unspoilt' character. Any development should maintain or improve the existing level of tranquillity. A more detailed assessment of tranquillity will be undertaken as part of the further work on West Oxfordshire's Green Infrastructure resource.

7.9 In addition to more general district-wide landscape considerations, there are three areas in West Oxfordshire that are given special policy attention: the Lower Windrush Valley Project Area (an area of major landscape change associated with mineral extraction and after-uses, especially for recreation, tourism and nature conservation); the Windrush in Witney Project Area (a fundamental component of the town's attractive character); and the Wychwood Project Area (a project that aims to revive the landscape character and mix of habitats found in the area during the Middle Ages). These three areas, together with the Cotswolds AONB, will continue to be identified for special landscape protection and enhancement (see Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.2 - Special Landscape Policy Areas

Special Landscape Policy Areas

CORE POLICY 17 - Landscape Character

The quality, character and distinctiveness of West Oxfordshire's natural environment, including its landscape, tranquillity, geology, countryside, soil, and biodiversity, will be conserved and enhanced.

New development should respect and, where possible, enhance the intrinsic character, quality and distinctive natural and man-made features of the local landscape, including individual or groups of features such as stonewalls, trees, hedges, woodlands, rivers, streams and ponds.

New development should not result in the loss of trees, woodlands or hedgerows, or their settings, which are important for their visual, amenity, historic or biodiversity value.

When determining development proposals within or impacting upon the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, high priority will be given to the conservation and enhancement of the area's landscape and scenic beauty.

Special attention and protection will be given to the landscape and biodiversity of the Lower Windrush Valley Project, the Windrush in Witney Project Area and the Wychwood Forest Area.