Draft Local Plan October 2012

Historic Environment

7.57 West Oxfordshire is fortunate to benefit from a rich and varied historic environment. This plays a key role in defining the distinctive character of the District and the individuality of its settlements, strengthening the area's economic, cultural and tourism role and contributing to the overall quality of life enjoyed by current and future generations. The historic environment is not limited to the built environment and archaeological sites, but includes landscapes, both rural and urban, identified as having a degree of significance by virtue of their historic, archaeological, architectural or artistic interest: all contribute to local identity. Features - buildings, monuments, sites, places, areas and landscapes and their settings - are referred to as 'heritage assets'. These may be classed as 'designated', e.g. Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings, or 'non-designated', e.g. locally listed buildings.

7.58 The heritage assets of West Oxfordshire are highly distinctive, possessing characteristics deriving from the history, geology and landform of the District, and together contributing to a strong and tangible sense of place. The assets take many forms: buildings and areas of built development, constructed of local limestone or ironstone and following local vernacular traditions; Conservation Areas, from well-preserved 'wool' market towns to small, dispersed villages; historic parks and gardens including nationally important 18th-century landscapes; and both above and below ground archaeological remains. The West Oxfordshire Design Guide, Landscape Assessment and Conservation Area Appraisals provide further analysis of the District's character.

7.59 Designated heritage assets in West Oxfordshire include the Blenheim World Heritage Site, in excess of 3,200 Listed Buildings (Grades I, II* and II), 50 Conservation Areas, 149 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and 12 Historic Parks and Gardens (Grades I, II* and II). The significance of these assets is inherent in their designation, and some features of the assets form part of the designation record. Further information on the Blenheim World Heritage Site is set out in Section 9.

7.60 Non-designated heritage assets are features of the historic environment that make a positive contribution to the distinctive character and appearance of the area in which they are located (in terms of their siting, design, or use of materials), but that are not covered by a statutory designation. Non-designated heritage assets contribute both individually and collectively to the special character and appearance of West Oxfordshire. Some will have been identified as locally listed buildings within conservation areas as part of Conservation Area Appraisals.

7.61 Heritage assets such as those described above are irreplaceable. At the national level there is a presumption that such assets will be protected and enhanced in a manner that is appropriate to their significance and also enjoyed for the quality of life they bring to current and future generations . This general principle will apply in West Oxfordshire. There will therefore be a presumption in favour of protecting, sustaining and enhancing our heritage assets and their setting. The weight to be attached to that presumption, when assessed against meeting other needs, will be dependent on:

  • The significance of the asset: whether it is a designated asset (and its position in the hierarchy of designated assets) or a non-designated asset and on its value in terms of its historic and architectural interest and appearance.
  • The significance of that part of the asset to be affected by the proposed development to the historic and architectural interest, appearance and setting of the asset as a whole.

7.62 To enable the Council to positively manage change by determining the appropriate balance between the need for any proposed development and the need to safeguard the heritage asset, a developer will be required to analyse the significance of the asset, and of that part to be affected, and to provide detailed evidence to show:

  • That the proposals have been formulated and any works designed with a proper understanding of the significance of the heritage asset.
  • That the heritage asset is being put to a viable use consistent with its conservation
  • That opportunities to enhance, to better reveal or minimise harm to the significance of the asset have been taken, and
  • That the need to be met by the development could not be met in a more beneficial or less harmful way.

7.63 Information submitted in support of development proposals affecting heritage assets in West Oxfordshire should include reference, where available, to the 'historic environment record': statutory designations; the Council's Conservation Area Appraisals; records kept by the County Archaeologist; local consultations, and detailed exploratory and survey work, including archaeological field evaluations, as appropriate. The amount of information to be provided should be proportionate to the significance of the asset and the degree of impact of the proposed development on that significance.

7.64 Where permission is granted for development that would affect a heritage asset, conditions may be imposed to require a record to be made of the part of the asset to be destroyed or altered and of any archaeology revealed in the course of development. The record and any recovered archaeological artefacts will be required to be preserved and maintained to contribute to knowledge and understanding of the asset.

7.65 Core Policy 23 summarises the Council's approach. Sustainable development means safeguarding and seeking improvements to the quality of the historic environment and its heritage assets for this and future generations. Development that fulfils the requirements of this policy will be regarded as sustainable and will therefore be considered favourably.

CORE POLICY 23 - Historic Environment

All development proposals will be expected to respect, protect and enhance the special character and distinctiveness of West Oxfordshire's historic environment and its heritage assets and their setting.

Development must not result in loss or damage to important heritage assets, or their settings, particularly those of national importance.

Development should make a positive contribution to the historic environment's local character and distinctiveness, especially where this will address local issues identified in, for example, Conservation Area appraisals.