West Oxfordshire Proposed Submission Local Plan 2011-2031



Our environmental objectives include:

CO9 Promote inclusive, healthy, safe and crime free communities.

CO14 Conserve and enhance the high environmental quality of West Oxfordshire with protection and promotion of its diverse landscape, biodiversity and geological conservation interests, and its local cultural, heritage and environmental assets.

CO15 Reduce the causes and adverse impacts of climate change, especially flood risk.

CO16 Achieve improvements in water and air quality.

CO17 Minimise the use of non-renewable natural resources and promote more widespread use of renewable energy solutions.


8.1 A key characteristic of West Oxfordshire is the quality and diversity of its natural and historic environment. One of the biggest challenges for the Local Plan is to protect, sustain and enhance this environment, while at the same time accommodating necessary development. This section sets out how this objective will be pursued locally through our approach to the conservation and enhancement of the District's environmental assets - its landscape character, biodiversity, green infrastructure, public realm, natural resources (water, waste, minerals) and the historic environment.

Landscape Character

8.2 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.

8.3 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 (endorsed by the District Council as supplementary guidance and is a material consideration) and Landscape Character Assessment, Strategy and Guidelines, is invaluable.

8.4 In accordance with national policy, major developments within the AONB will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that they are in the public interest. Importantly, there is no singular definition of major development and the Council will consider each case on its merits having regard to relevant factors including location, scale, context and design. In some instances, even relatively small-scale developments will be classed as major development and therefore only permitted in exceptional circumstances and where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

8.5 Natural England has undertaken a high-level assessment of the country's landscapes, identifying and describing the distinct areas and highlighting opportunities in useful profile publications. West Oxfordshire falls within two of these National Character Areas: NCA 107 Cotswolds and NCA 108 Upper Thames Clay Vales (latest profiles published March 2013 and June 2014 respectively). Complementing these profiles, a more detailed local character assessment is included in the West Oxfordshire Landscape Assessment (WOLA) which describes the landscape characteristics of different areas within the District, giving guidance on landscape enhancement, planning and development. Figure 8.1 shows the 13 Character Areas identified in the assessment.

Fig 8.1


8.6 The NCA profiles and the West Oxfordshire Landscape Assessment together with guidance in the West Oxfordshire Design Guide SPD, 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.

8.7 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).

8.8 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.

8.9 It is important that these existing natural features and their settings are protected, managed and, where appropriate, supplemented by new planting of local native species, at the individual site-scale through to the wider landscape-scale. As an example of an irreplaceable habitat, ancient woodland, in particular, needs special care with buffers of additional planting of native trees of at least 15 metres between woodland and development[1] .

8.10 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 and will feed into the early review of this Local Plan. In the interim, the CPRE's Tranquillity Map of Oxfordshire is a useful guide in assessing areas of tranquillity.

8.11 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 restore the landscape character and mix of habitats associated with the Royal Hunting Forest of Wychwood). These three areas, together with the Cotswolds AONB, will continue to be identified for special landscape protection and enhancement (see Figure 8.2).

Fig 8 2 Special Landscape Policy Areas


1. Natural England Standing Advice on Ancient Woodland 2012 [back]


Policy EH1 - Landscape Character


The quality, character and distinctiveness of West Oxfordshire's natural environment, including its landscape, cultural and historic value, 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 and their settings, such as stone walls, trees, hedges, woodlands, rivers, streams and ponds. Conditions may be imposed on development proposals to ensure every opportunity is made to retain such features and ensure their long-term survival through appropriate management and restoration.

Proposals which would result in the loss of features, important for their visual, amenity, or historic value will not be permitted unless the loss can be justified by appropriate mitigation and/or compensatory measures which can be secured to the satisfaction of the Council.

When determining development proposals within or impacting upon the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, great weight will be given to the conservation 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 Project Area.



8.12 The landscape and biodiversity of an area are inter-related. In the same way as West Oxfordshire has a rich and diverse landscape, so too does it contain a rich variety of habitats, which support a wide range of legally protected species and other wildlife. Both reflect the underlying soils and geological diversity of the area. About 4% of the District's countryside falls within sites identified for their biodiversity or geological importance, including 29 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the internationally important Cassington Meadows Special Area of Conservation (SAC), part of the Oxford Meadows SAC[2] .

8.13 However, the bulk of wildlife lives outside nature reserves and specifically protected areas so, in order to meet the Government's aim of minimising impacts on biodiversity and achieving net gains and improvements for nature (helping to meet the international commitment of halting and reversing the decline of biodiversity by 2020), it is important that biodiversity is carefully considered in relation to all development proposals. British Standards BS 42020 'Biodiversity - Code of practice for planning and development', provides clear guidance on biodiversity conservation and enhancement, the application of which is encouraged by the Council as good practice.

8.14 Biodiversity protection and enhancement provides clear benefits to nature but the benefits are far wider than this alone. Nature's services - using the ecosystem services approach advocated by the Government through the Natural Environment White Paper - include: cultural services to people and the economy (such as the role fulfilled by the Wychwood National Nature Reserve in terms of sense of place, recreation, tourism and education); regulating services (e.g. the water meadows along the River Thames and its tributaries providing natural flood relief and water purification and improving water quality); and provisioning services (ranging from wine and cider to food and timber production from our countryside).

8.15 In recognition of their wide ranging benefits, the protection of West Oxfordshire's wildlife and the conservation, enhancement and restoration of its biodiversity and geodiversity are promoted. A strategic approach is advocated, giving recognition to the contributions made by sites, areas and features, individually (following the national hierarchical approach to site and species protection[3] ) and in combination to wider ecological networks. Within the NPPF, Section 11 and Paragraph 118 are of particular relevance, along with the accompanying PPG.

8.16 Networks of natural habitats provide a particularly valuable resource and need protection and, where possible, reinforcement, integration and expansion, creating links between fragmented habitats to create greater coherence and resilience, not least because this will increase the opportunity for species and habitats to adapt to climate change and other pressures. Landscape features such as hedgerows, woods, rivers, meadows, ponds and floodplains can be invaluable components of these networks, providing wildlife corridors and stepping-stones in both urban and rural areas. The early identification of features of value is needed in any development proposal to ensure adequate measures are taken for their incorporation, enhancement and protection.

8.17 A partnership of conservation bodies in Oxfordshire (the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum) has assessed the county's key strategic habitats and devised Conservation Target Areas (CTAs) (see Figure 8.3). These are the most important areas for wildlife conservation where targeted conservation action will have the greatest benefit. The main aim within CTAs is to restore biodiversity at a landscape-scale through maintenance, restoration and creation of UK priority habitats.

8.18 In planning terms, they can be considered as potential areas of ecological constraint but, more positively, as areas of ecological opportunity. Development proposed within or close to a CTA should identify the biodiversity constraints and opportunities and show how the proposal will help to achieve the aims of the CTA. West Oxfordshire target areas include the Upper Windrush and Wychwood Forest.

8.19 The creation of coherent and resilient large scale ecological networks is being encouraged by the Government through the establishment of Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs), where the aim is to achieve significant and demonstrable enhancement through partnership working. The Oxfordshire Local Nature Partnership - Wild Oxfordshire - will help to identify and establish new, locally determined NIAs in the county. The CTAs, Strategic Green Infrastructure and Natural Character Areas are likely to form the core of these NIAs. The Cotswolds Ecological Networks Partnership has already identified two Cotswolds NIAs; extensive parts of West Oxfordshire are covered by their Cotswolds Valleys NIA.

8.20 Figure 8.4 shows the key components of the local ecological networks, including: international, national and local sites of importance for biodiversity and geological conservation interest, and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration and creation. In 2014 the important sites in West Oxfordshire included one international site (part of the Oxford Meadows Special Area of Conservation), 31 national sites (two national nature reserves and 29 Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and 123 local sites (16 Local Geological Sites, 2 Local Nature Reserves, 98 Local Wildlife sites (LWSs) and 7 proposed LWSs). The number and location of sites change over time as surveys and re-surveys take place. A living list of Local Wildlife Sites is available on the Thames Valley Environmental Records website[4] .

Fig 8.3

Fig 8.4


8.21 Development proposals affecting or related to these and other ecologically important areas will be expected to ensure that any potential harm is avoided. However in exceptional cases when harm cannot be avoided then the proposed works will need to be fully mitigated and compensated in order to include enhancements. Some potential areas of improvement are identified in the Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP). In order to ensure there is no net loss to biodiversity, the incorporation of biodiversity in and around developments will be a requirement.

8.22 Only when all methods of avoidance and on-site mitigation have been fully explored and proven to the LPA that they cannot be satisfactorily achieved on site will biodiversity offsetting be considered for an exceptional development case. Biodiversity offsetting is a mechanism used to secure compensation for impacts of development for the creation or restoration of important habitats elsewhere. Not all habitats, however, can be re-created; ancient woodland, for example, is irreplaceable, having evolved over centuries, with a complex interdependency of geology, soils, hydrology, flora and fauna.

8.23 In addition to the more strategic approach to habitat enhancement and creation, there are relatively small measures that can be undertaken through the development process that cumulatively will bring benefits for biodiversity, including incorporating integral bird and bat boxes, such as planting of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers and providing wildlife friendly landscaping such as green walls, roofs and balconies.

2. The Oxford Meadows Special Area of Conservation (SAC), part of which is within West Oxfordshire’s boundary, is designated by the European Commission as being of European importance for its biodiversity interest. A Habitat Regulations Assessment concluded that the Local Plan will have no likely significant adverse effect on the integrity of the SAC. Two key issues were, however, identified: air quality and recreational pressure. Further assessment of these issues will need to be made if more detailed proposals (for example through neighbourhood plans or a planning application) are likely to have a significant impact, in particular to ensure that there will not be any localised adverse effects resultant from construction or increased road trips within 200m of the European sites. [back]
3. ** Circular 06/2005 provides guidance in respect of statutory obligations for biological conservation and their impact within the planning system. Section 11 of the NPPF is also of particular relevance. [back]
4. ttp://www.tverc.org [back]


Policy EH2 - Biodiversity


The biodiversity of West Oxfordshire shall be protected and enhanced to achieve an overall net gain in biodiversity, including by:

- giving sites and species of international nature conservation importance and nationally important sites of special scientific interest the highest level of protection from any development that will have an adverse impact;

- requiring a Habitats Regulation Assessment to be undertaken of any development proposal that is likely to have a significant adverse effect, either alone or in combination, on the Oxford Meadows SAC, particularly in relation to air quality and nitrogen oxide emissions and deposition;

- protecting and mitigating for impacts on priority habitats and protected species and their importance individually and as part of a wider network;

- avoiding loss, deterioration or harm to locally important wildlife and geological sites and sites supporting irreplaceable habitats (including ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees), UK priority habitats and priority species, except in exceptional circumstances where the importance of the development significantly and demonstrably outweighs the harm and the harm can be mitigated through appropriate measures and a net gain in biodiversity is secured;

- ensuring development does not prevent the achievement of the aims of the Conservation Target Areas (CTAs);

- promoting the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, particularly within the CTAs;

- taking all opportunities to enhance the biodiversity of the site or the locality, especially where this will help deliver networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure and UK priority habitats and species targets and meet the aims of Conservation Target Areas;

All developments will be expected to provide towards the provision of necessary enhancements in areas of biodiversity importance.


Public Realm and Green Infrastructure

8.24 Green infrastructure consists of green areas in both rural and urban settings and fulfils a wide variety of environmental, social and economic functions. Green infrastructure can include nature reserves, designated sites, recreation grounds, parks and open spaces, public rights of way, allotments, cemeteries and many other green areas. Good quality, accessible space is highly valued by the public. The condition of the public realm (which includes areas as diverse as Burford High Street, Woodstock's Market Square and Langel Common in Witney) has a significant impact on the street scene and quality of life and is an important component of the visual, spatial and historic qualities that make an area special and bring neighbourhoods together, contributing to the economic and social wellbeing of an area. Often no single authority, agency or owner has control over - or responsibility for - the management of such areas. Their provision, maintenance and enhancement forms a fundamental aspect of good design (see also Policy OS4). Such areas can be further enhanced by the provision of public art projects (usually created by visual artists and craftspeople for a specific site).

8.25 Protecting and securing improvements to the public realm is an important component to achieving sustainable communities. The NPPF emphasises that development should promote a network of public places and green spaces which are attractive, accessible, safe, uncluttered, work effectively for all users and provide a high quality landscape/townscape. (The design section of PPG provides useful additional guidance[5] .) Further benefits come from these areas being integrated through walkways, cycleways, rights of way, open spaces and natural and green corridors.

8.26 Many areas within the public realm perform a wide variety of functions. This multi-functionality of space occurs especially with green space: for example by providing a wide range of ecosystem services, helping to enhance biodiversity through improved connectivity, linking urban areas to their rural hinterlands, contributing to water management, creating a sense of place, providing opportunities for exercise, active recreation and healthy living, enhancing image, and creating places where people want to invest, generating jobs and businesses. It therefore has economic and social benefits and mitigates the impact of climate change.

8.27 As a predominantly rural district, it is not surprising that West Oxfordshire has a wide variety of green space, albeit not all publicly accessible or only accessible along public rights of way. In order to achieve the widest range of linked environmental and social benefits, green infrastructure networks need to be planned and managed - More, Bigger, Better Managed and Joined. This will be particularly important for those areas of greatest potential change, e.g. the main towns (where an accessible, green infrastructure network, close to where people live, needs to be treated as integral to the design and planning of new development), and where existing projects are already underway or emerging, e.g. the Lower Windrush Valley Project, the Cotswolds Save Our Magnificent Meadows Campaign, the Chimney Meadows Living Landscape Project and Conservation Target Areas. A Green Infrastructure Study (2011) has been undertaken for West Oxfordshire and further guidance on green infrastructure will be published, including identifying opportunities for partnership working, strengthening and reinforcing networks, enhancing connectivity and achieving long term management.

8.28 The Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP) identifies some potential improvements to the District's network of Green Infrastructure and where appropriate, development will be required to provide or contribute towards the provision of necessary improvements.

5. http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/design/ [back]


Policy EH3 - Public Realm and Green Infrastructure


The existing areas of public space and green infrastructure assets of West Oxfordshire will be protected and enhanced and new multi-functional areas of space will be created to achieve improvements to the network (through extending spaces and connections and/or better management), particularly in areas of new development and/or where stakeholder/partnership projects already exist or are emerging.

Public realm and publicly accessible green infrastructure network considerations should be integral to the planning of new development. New development should not result in the loss of existing green infrastructure unless it can be demonstrated that replacement provision can be provided which will improve the green infrastructure network in terms of its quantity, quality, accessibility and management arrangements.

Development proposals will be expected to provide or contribute towards the provision of necessary improvements to the District's multi-functional network of green infrastructure (including Conservation Target Areas) and open space, providing opportunities for walking and cycling within the built-up areas and connecting settlements to the countryside through a network of footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes.

New development should not result in the loss of open space, sports and recreational buildings and land unless up to date assessment shows the asset is surplus to requirements or the need for and benefits of the alternative land use clearly outweigh the loss and equivalent replacement provision is made. Where appropriate, development will be expected to provide or contribute towards the provision of necessary improvements to open space, sports and recreational buildings and land**.

** Regard will be had to the Open Space Study (2013) and Playing Pitch Strategy (2014) for West Oxfordshire


Sport, Recreation and Children's Play

8.29 Play parks, playing fields, country parks, sailing lakes, golf courses, allotments and the like, while primarily designed for formal and/or informal recreation purposes, all contribute to the District's open space provision and fulfil the multi-functionality of green infrastructure. Recreational open space and built facilities, such as the Carterton Leisure Centre, are also fundamental to the quality of life and wellbeing of West Oxfordshire's residents, contributing to community-life and bringing health and social benefits.

8.30 Local assessments of recreation provision show some inconsistency in the quantity and quality of facilities within West Oxfordshire. Given the aim of raising recreation participation levels, especially amongst young people, combined with a growing population, there is likely to be greater demand and pressure on existing facilities, giving added emphasis to the need for their retention. The general principle of protecting existing facilities is especially relevant for open spaces with recreational value in built-up areas, where demand is greatest and replacement space can be difficult to provide (see Policy EH3 - Public Realm and Green Infrastructure and Policy OS5 - Supporting Infrastructure).

8.31 Additional provision will need to be made, both through new facilities and maximising the use of existing facilities such as in schools and village halls. We will work in partnership with schools and other organisations to make facilities available to the wider community by maximising the range, quality and effectiveness of joint use provision. The Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP) identifies a number of necessary improvements to sport, recreation and play facilities across the District. New development will be expected to provide or contribute towards the provision of enhancements where appropriate, having regard to the West Oxfordshire Open Space Study (2013) and Playing Pitch Strategy (2014).

Decentralised, Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Development

8.32 We have already explained how as part of the overall strategy all development will be expected to give explicit consideration to the efficient, prudent use and management of natural resources including the use of sustainable construction, minimisation of waste and recycling of waste (see Policy OS3). In line with the three-step 'energy hierarchy' (lean, clean, green) we also need to give consideration to specific proposals relating to decentralised energy supply and the use of renewable and low carbon energy.

8.33 As part of its response to the challenges of both climate change and the security of energy supply, the Government is committed to increasing the use and supply of renewable and low-carbon energy, emphasising the responsibility on all communities to contribute towards energy generation from such sources. Community-led initiatives have begun to emerge locally, for example the Community Renewable Energy Strategy for Chipping Norton and Eynsham's People Power Station Project. The Council encourages and supports such schemes.

8.34 A study into renewable energy in West Oxfordshire (the CAG Study) identified opportunities for renewable energy technologies that generate electricity (wind, solar PV, small scale hydro) or heat (biomass, solar thermal, heat pumps) or both e.g. biomass/wood fuel Combined Heat and Power (CHP). However, the District's high-valued landscape and historic environment impose significant constraints on large scale stand-alone renewable energy development.

8.35 While in relation to wind development there may be some potential for larger, commercial, wind turbines, the development pattern is more likely to be one of single turbines and small scale community-owned clusters (e.g. connected through schools or village halls), scattered rather than being grouped in a particular part of the District. Similarly, the opportunities for large scale solar farms appear limited, whereas community solar clubs are becoming increasingly popular. The constraints - especially the AONB, landscape character, airfields and widely distributed settlement pattern - means each scheme will need a high level of testing.

8.36 Environmental and technical constraints on wind and solar power in the District, mean that to achieve significant levels of renewable energy generation, the development of biomass as a fuel source will need to play a crucial role. Biomass might be used in small scale power stations or District Energy Schemes. Biomass is a good, viable option for new build development (and existing buildings) where the necessary infrastructure such as underground pipework can be laid whilst major construction is underway.

8.37 The County has a large number of small woodlands. These, together with larger woodlands and estates in West Oxfordshire and the growing of short rotation coppice, should be capable of producing enough biomass to expand the existing but small local wood fuel industry. Not only will this provide renewable, low carbon energy, there will also be local environmental and economic benefits. Further work is underway to stimulate demand and develop local, sustainable supply chains through a West Oxfordshire Wood Fuel Network and a countywide Community Woodfuel Initiative.

8.38 When assessing applications for renewable/low carbon energy, the potential local environmental, economic and community benefits will be important considerations. Regard will also be given to scale, design, location, technology type and cumulative impact. The aim will be to minimise adverse impacts on landscape, biodiversity, heritage assets, highways and residential amenity.

8.39 In the Cotswolds AONB small scale renewable energy development is encouraged both by the Council and by the Cotswolds Conservation Board, provided it is consistent with conserving and enhancing the landscape and natural beauty of the area. In 2014 the Board published a Renewable Energy Position Statement which expands upon policies in the Cotswolds AONB Management Plan 2012-18 and includes guidance on where renewable energy developments should be located.

8.40 The Board recognises that different forms of renewables require different infrastructure, which in turn has different landscape and other implications; what might be appropriate development within the AONB and its setting must be based on full account being taken of the likely impacts, through the production of thorough landscape and visual impact assessments and environmental impact assessments, as necessary. Overall, due to the potential significant adverse effect on natural beauty, medium to large scale renewable energy developments will not generally be appropriate within the AONB (or in locations beyond where such development would affect its setting and character).

8.41 Given the limited opportunities in West Oxfordshire for large stand-alone renewable energy schemes, there is a strong need to maximise the opportunities to incorporate decentralised and renewable or low carbon energy generation within non-energy developments. Planned tightening of the Building Regulations, with rising energy efficiency and carbon standards, means new development will be moving towards zero carbon from 2016. This will help to drive decentralised energy.

8.42 The CAG Study highlighted the potential benefits of encouraging greater use of medium and large scale decentralised energy systems to reduce local CO2 emissions. Such systems include the provision of heat and power (CHP) or just heat (DH), the infrastructure for which can be installed at the same time as other services (water and drainage systems, etc), meaning new developments offer an ideal opportunity for such systems.

8.43 With challenging renewable electricity and heat targets, decentralised energy systems will become increasingly important, especially within the allocated Strategic Development Areas. A feasibility assessment will be required for such sites. Given the wider local benefits, the use of woody biomass will, in particular, need to be investigated.


Policy EH4 - Decentralised and renewable or low carbon energy development


In principle, renewable and low-carbon energy developments, especially small-scale community-led initiatives for wind schemes, solar clubs and the use of biomass will be supported.

Renewable or low-carbon energy development should be located and designed to minimise any adverse impacts, with particular regard to conserving the District's high valued landscape and historic environment. In assessing proposals, the following local issues will need to be considered and satisfactorily addressed:

- impacts on landscape, biodiversity, historic environment, residential amenity, aviation activities, highway safety and fuel/energy security, including their cumulative and visual impacts;

- opportunities for environmental enhancement;

- potential benefits to host communities (including job creation and income generation).

The use of decentralised energy systems, including Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and District Heating (DH), especially woody biomass fuelled, will be encouraged in all developments.

An energy assessment or strategy which assesses viability for decentralised energy systems, including consideration of the use of local wood fuel biomass and other renewable energy initiatives will be required for:

- proposals on strategic development areas (SDAs)

- all residential developments in off-gas areas for 50 dwellings or more.

- all non-domestic developments above 1000m2 floorspace


Water and Flood Risk

8.44 Water is a precious and finite resource. There is a need to protect not only the sources of water (both surface and underground) and the quality of water, but also the general environment associated with the water system.

8.45 The use of policies in this Local Plan (e.g. on environmental protection, green infrastructure, biodiversity and sustainable construction) and adherence to national guidance and policy will assist in achieving the objectives of the Water Framework Directive and actions of the Thames River Basin Management Plan, particularly the requirement to protect and improve the status of water bodies, including their ecological value.

8.46 The Council is working with other partners as part of Defra's catchment based approach to improving the quality of the water environment. West Oxfordshire falls within two catchment areas: the Evenlode and the Windrush.

8.47 The River Thames and its tributaries contribute to the character and local distinctiveness of the District and provide a valuable resource for wildlife, fisheries, landscape, tourism, public access and water related activities. Development that would have an adverse impact on this resource will be resisted.

8.48 Historically, settlements have tended to locate within river corridors, using the river as a source of water, food, transport and energy (the River Windrush, for example, was fundamental to Witney's blanket industry). After heavy rain, however, many of these water courses flood. Flooding from surface water drainage, ground water and sewers also occurs. A Level 1 Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) has been prepared in conjunction with the Environment Agency to update the information on flooding in West Oxfordshire and includes an assessment of the likelihood of additional flooding as a result of climate change.

8.49 A Level 2 SFRA for Witney has been produced in relation to the north Witney Strategic Development Area (SDA) and West End Link providing further detail on flood risk in the town. A countywide study has also been undertaken into flooding from surface runoff, groundwater and ordinary watercourses: the Oxfordshire Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment.

8.50 In terms of development in flood risk areas, a sequential, risk-based approach will be followed, steering vulnerable development to areas at lower risk of flooding. (The Government has published technical guidance, alongside the NPPF, giving further advice on flood risk.) Inappropriate development will not be allocated or permitted in flood risk zones 2 and 3 (which have higher probability of flooding), areas at risk of surface water flooding or areas with a history of groundwater flooding, or where it would increase flood risk elsewhere, unless there is over-riding need (that cannot be met in any other way), an absence of suitable alternatives and flood risk can be satisfactorily addressed.

8.51 The aim of the Sequential Test is to steer new development to areas with the lowest probability of flooding. Development should not be allocated or permitted if there are reasonably available sites appropriate for the proposed development in areas with a lower probability of flooding. If, following application of the Sequential Test, it is not possible, consistent with wider sustainability objectives, for the development to be located in zones with a lower probability of flooding, the Exception Test can be applied if appropriate.

8.52 For the Exception Test to be passed:

a) it must be demonstrated that the development provides wider sustainability benefits to the community that outweigh flood risk, informed by the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment; and

b) a site-specific flood risk assessment must demonstrate that the development will be safe for its lifetime taking account of the vulnerability of its users, without increasing flood risk elsewhere, and, where possible, will reduce flood risk overall.

8.53 Both elements of the test will have to be passed for development to be allocated or permitted.

8.54 All development at risk of flooding will require a flood risk assessment and must be designed to be flood resilient and resistant, for example, through raising floor levels, designing buildings to withstand the effects of flooding and achieve safe access and escape routes.

8.55 National advice, the SFRA and the West Oxfordshire Design Guide provide guidance on the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS): drainage systems that mimic natural patterns and can ease surface water run-off, helping to avoid soil erosion, control pollution and enhance biodiversity. In 2014 the Government made clear that it expected SuDS to be provided in all new development, being given particular priority for developments in areas at risk of flooding.

8.56 The use of SuDS will be required as part of all major development, unless demonstrated to be inappropriate. An important consideration in the provision and design of SuDS is that there are clear arrangements in place for ongoing maintenance. Advice should be sought from Oxfordshire County Council, the relevant lead local flood authority.

8.57 The need for water management is especially relevant for West Oxfordshire, not just associated with the issue of flood risk (as exemplified by the summer floods of 2007) but equally water scarcity at times of drought. The District lies within an area of 'serious' water stress where there are limited water resources and yet a high and growing demand for water. Policy OS3 - Prudent Use of Natural Resources seeks to maximise the efficient use of water.


Policy EH5 - Flood Risk


Flood risk will be managed using the sequential, risk-based approach, set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, of avoiding flood risk to people and property where possible and managing any residual risk (taking account of the impacts of climate change).

In assessing proposals for development:

- the Sequential Test and, if necessary, the Exception Test will be applied;

- all sources of flooding (including sewer flooding and surface water flooding) will need to be addressed and measures to manage or reduce their impacts, onsite and elsewhere, incorporated into the development proposal;

- appropriate flood resilient and resistant measures should be used;

- sustainable drainage systems to manage run-off will be integrated into the site design, maximising their habitat value and ensuring their long term maintenance;

- a site-specific flood risk assessment will be required for all proposals of 1ha or more and for any proposal in Flood Zone 2 and 3 and Critical Drainage Areas;

- only water compatible uses and essential infrastructure will be allowed in a functional flood plain (Flood Zone 3b);

- land required for flood management will be safeguarded from development and, where applicable, managed as part of the green infrastructure network, including maximising its biodiversity value.


Environmental Protection

8.58 Protection of the area's high environmental quality is an important objective of the Local Plan. Overall, air and water quality are generally good in West Oxfordshire and land contamination limited. In addition, the rural nature of the District means there are still areas of relative tranquillity and low levels of light pollution. Development has, however, the potential to affect the quality of land, soil health, air and water which, in turn, can impact upon public health and quality of life. New development, therefore, needs to be appropriate for its location and take into account known risks and the effects of pollution on health, the natural environment and general amenity.

Air Quality

8.59 While in general West Oxfordshire's air quality is good, there are specific areas experiencing problems, mainly attributable to road transport. Addressing air quality issues is, therefore, complementary to the aim of reducing the need to travel, achieving a reduction in transport emissions and addressing climate change. Poor air quality is linked to respiratory illness, heart disease and asthma.

8.60 When assessing development proposals, consideration will be given to the impact of the development on the air quality by both the operational characteristics of the development (industrial, commercial and domestic) and the traffic generated by it. The cumulative impact of development will also need to be assessed. Regard will be had to the National Air Quality Strategy objectives. Local air quality reviews have resulted in the designation of two Air Quality Management Areas in the District, each with an Action Plan: one at Chipping Norton and one at Witney. The Habitats Regulation assessment for the Local Plan has identified air quality as a significant issue in relation to the internationally important Oxford Meadows Special Area of Conservation (see also Policy EH2 - Biodiversity).

Contaminated Land

8.61 As West Oxfordshire was not an area of widespread heavy industry, contamination of land is not a major issue. In the few areas where contamination has occurred (for example associated with the former blanket industry and landfill sites), it could pose a threat both to the health of future users of the site and to the surrounding environment, especially if redevelopment takes place. Few sites are so badly contaminated that they cannot be reused. The level of remedial action required for such sites needs to be sufficient to overcome any acceptable risks to health or the environment, taking into account the actual or intended use of the site.

8.62 Contamination of land can also have an impact on water quality. The Environment Agency will seek appropriate controls to protect the water environment, in particular with the Source Protection Zone for Chipping Norton. Where development is proposed on contaminated land, the Agency will expect the developer to undertake site investigations to assess the nature and extent of contamination and cover the costs of any appropriate sustainable mitigation or remedial measures.


8.63 As a largely rural district, the sustainable management of our soils is especially pertinent. Soil is a fundamental natural resource, providing many essential services, including food production, water management and support for valuable biodiversity and ecosystems. It also plays a vital role in climate change, storing carbon. The NPPF and Policy OS3 advocate the prudent use of natural resources including soils. (Defra's Code of practice on the sustainable use of soils provides advice to the construction sector on the protection of soil resources.) In addition, Policy EH6, in addressing pollution, also relates to the need to consider soil pollution. New and existing development should not contribute to or be put at unacceptable risk from, or be adversely affected by, unacceptable levels of soil pollution.

Hazardous substances, installations and airfields

8.64 West Oxfordshire has a number of installations handling notifiable substances, including high-pressure natural gas transmission pipelines. They are subject to stringent controls under Health and Safety legislation. New development will be carefully controlled in the vicinity of these installations, taking full consideration of advice from the Health and Safety Executive.

8.65 There are a number of existing airfields within and adjoining West Oxfordshire. The Civil Aviation Authority (for Oxford Airfield at Kidlington) and the Ministry of Defence (for RAF Brize Norton) have identified safeguarding areas around the airfields and provide advice on the types of development which might have an adverse effect upon aviation operations, such as wind turbines (an Airport Wind Turbine Safeguarding Zone covers the whole of West Oxfordshire), high buildings, increased lighting and developments which have the potential to increase the bird hazard risk.

Artificial Light

8.66 External lighting can perform a wide variety of functions ranging from floodlighting of sporting activities, to illuminating important buildings, to improving highway safety. These needs for lighting should be balanced, particularly in rural areas, against any adverse impact lights might have on the visual character of the area, the 'night sky', nature conservation or the reasonable living conditions of local residents.


8.67 Noise can have an adverse effect on the environment and on the health and quality of life enjoyed by individuals and communities. Although West Oxfordshire is a largely rural area, noise pollution is still an issue locally. For example, the active military airport of RAF Brize Norton and busy roads, such as the A40, are two sources of significant noise disturbance. Wherever possible, significant and intrusive sources of noise should be kept away from property and areas sensitive to noise. Where segregation is not possible, noise nuisance can be reduced through mitigation measures (e.g. bunding).

Water Resources

8.68 Rivers, lakes and ponds are sources of water supply but also important resources for nature conservation, fisheries, navigation, amenity and leisure. All these uses can be seriously affected by pollution. The environment associated with water bodies can be a sensitive area where the harmful effects of development are usually irreversible. In such areas, development which would have an adverse impact upon the environment will not be acceptable.

8.69 The geology of West Oxfordshire means that, in addition to surface water bodies, large areas of the District contain aquifers which are especially important in terms of groundwater as a source of drinking water, but also for their role in supporting surface water flows and wetland ecosystems. The threats to groundwater can be particularly severe. The Environment Agency publishes maps showing the Aquifer and Groundwater Protection areas and their vulnerability to contamination. The protection of these sensitive aquifers, and in particular the Source Protection Zone for Chipping Norton potable water abstraction, needs to be achieved at all times.


Policy EH6 - Environmental Protection


Proposals which are likely to cause pollution or result in exposure to sources of pollution or risk to safety, will only be permitted if measures can be implemented to minimise pollution and risk to a level that provides a high standard of protection for health, environmental quality and amenity. The following issues require particular attention:

Air quality

The air quality within West Oxfordshire will be managed and improved in line with National Air Quality Standards, the principles of best practice and the Air Quality Management Area Action Plans for Witney and Chipping Norton.

Contaminated land

Proposals for development of land which may be contaminated must incorporate appropriate investigation into the quality of the land. Where there is evidence of contamination, remedial measures must be identified and satisfactorily implemented.

Hazardous substances, installations and airfields

Development should not adversely affect safety near notifiable installations and safeguarded airfields.

Artificial light

The installation of external lighting and proposals for remote rural buildings will only be permitted where:

i) the means of lighting is appropriate, unobtrusively sited and would not result in excessive levels of light;

ii) the elevations of buildings, particularly roofs, are designed to limit light spill;

ii) the proposal would not have a detrimental effect on local amenity, character of a settlement or wider countryside, intrinsically dark landscapes or nature conservation


Housing and other noise sensitive development should not take place in areas where the occupants would experience significant noise disturbance from existing or proposed development.

New development should not take place in areas where it would cause unacceptable nuisance to the occupants of nearby land and buildings from noise or disturbance.

Water resources

Proposals for development will only be acceptable provided there is no adverse impact on water bodies and groundwater resources, in terms of their quantity, quality and important ecological features.


Planning permission will be granted for appropriately located development that makes provision for the management and treatment of waste and recycling, in accordance with the Oxfordshire Joint Municipal Waste Strategy and local waste management strategy.



8.70 The Upper Thames Valley and its tributaries, particularly the Lower Windrush Valley, has been a major producer of sharp sand and gravel. Elsewhere in the District quarrying of rock takes place. Extensive areas of sand and gravel remain but, as a finite resource, it is essential these minerals are used efficiently, especially as, lying within historically important and biodiversity rich areas their exploitation has a major impact upon the quality of life of local communities and the environment in general and in particular on the water environment with regard to loss due to evaporation. Increased emphasis must be placed upon more sustainable construction methods than use of primary land-won aggregates.

8.71 The future minerals strategy for Oxfordshire is being pursued by the County Council through its Minerals and Waste Development Framework. We will continue to engage with the County Council in relation to this issue. In accordance with national policy, we will consult Oxfordshire County Council in relation to development proposals within the defined 'Mineral Consultation Area' that runs across the south of the District. This is shown on the Key Diagram and Proposals Map.


8.72 The national strategy for waste management is that, in order of preference, waste should be reduced, re-used, recycled, recovered and lastly disposed of through landfill. As part of sustainable construction, considerations should be given to the waste hierarchy during the design and construction of new development, for example, waste minimisation and re-use and recycling of waste materials, and when the site is occupied, making space available for home-composting and storage of re-cycling bins (Policy OS3).

8.73 There is a significant need for expanded reuse, recycling and composting facilities to reduce the quantities of waste disposed through landfill. Waste management facilities outside the main landfill site in the District (Dix Pit) and the anaerobic digestion facility at Cassington (where bacteria breaks down organic material, such as householder food-waste, into constituent parts, the gaseous component of which is captured and burnt for energy, whilst the remaining solid organics are utilised as fertiliser) are expected to be small-medium in scale providing local facilities only. There is an identified need for a medium-scale recycling/re-use facility in the northern part of the District.

8.74 The need for and location of new waste management facilities will be addressed through the County Council's Minerals and Waste Development Framework. Some new facilities may be satisfactorily accommodated on existing employment sites.

Historic Environment

8.75 West Oxfordshire is fortunate to benefit from an extremely rich and varied historic environment. This plays a key role in defining the distinctive character of the District and the individuality of its settlements, contributing greatly to the area's culture, economy and tourism and 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, cultural or artistic interest: all contribute to local identity.

8.76 Features of heritage significance including buildings, monuments, sites, places, areas and landscapes and their settings are referred to as 'heritage assets'. Heritage assets may be classed as 'designated' or 'non-designated'. Designated heritage assets have statutory protection and include Conservation Areas, Scheduled Monuments and Listed Buildings. Non-designated heritage assets, such as locally listed buildings, do not have statutory protection, but nonetheless represent a crucially important aspect of the District's heritage, and play a defining role in the local character of an area.

8.77 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, Conservation Area Appraisals and existing and emerging Historic Landscape Characterisation studies provide further analysis of the District's character.

8.78 Designated heritage assets in West Oxfordshire include the Blenheim World Heritage Site, almost 3,200 Listed Buildings (2934 of Grades II interest, 211 Grade II* and 43 Grade I), 50 Conservation Areas, 149 Scheduled Monuments and 12 Registered Historic Parks and Gardens (see Figure 8.5). The significance of these assets is inherent in their designation, and some features of the assets form part of the designation record. Figure 8.6 shows the distribution of heritage assets within West Oxfordshire.

Figure 8.5: Registered Parks and Gardens of special historic interest

Blenheim Palace I

Chastleton House II*

Cornbury II* 

Cornwell Manor II

Ditchley II*

Eynsham Hall II

Great Tew II

Heythrop II*

 Kelmscott Manor II

 Kiddington Hall II 

Rousham I

Sandford Park II

Sarsden House II*

Shipton Court II

Swerford II

Tackley II*

 Fig 8.6

8.79 Non-designated heritage assets are features of the historic environment that make a fundamental contribution to the distinctive character and appearance of the area in which they are located (in terms of their siting, design and use of materials). 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, taking account of a range of criteria, such as age, historic interest, building materials, architectural quality, original features of note and the contribution they make to their immediate and wider setting.

8.80 Conserving and enhancing the historic environment is a critically important part of sustainable development. Heritage assets - whether designated or non-designated - are irreplaceable features of the historic environment, whose effective conservation delivers a wide range of social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits. At the national level there is a presumption that heritage 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[6] .

8.81 This general principle of protection and enhancement will apply in West Oxfordshire. When considering development proposals there will therefore be a strong presumption in favour of protecting, sustaining and enhancing our heritage assets and their settings. The weight to be attached to that presumption, when assessed against meeting other needs, will be dependent on:

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

8.82 If the heritage asset is designated and has statutory protection, planning judgements will be set against the requirements of the relevant national legislation. If the heritage asset is non-designated, planning judgements will/ should be made on the basis of a thorough assessment of the historical and architectural interest, appearance and setting of the heritage asset.

8.83 The setting of a heritage asset, i.e. the surroundings within which it is experienced, can be an important element of its significance. Views of and from an asset will contribute to this but setting is also influenced by other environmental factors such as noise, vibration, smell and lighting from other nearby land uses. The historic relationship between places can also influence the setting. For example, the buildings in Witney associated with the blanket industry and wool trade are not all visible from each other yet nonetheless have a historic connection that affects the significance of each. When assessing development proposals within the setting of a heritage asset, careful consideration must be given to the implications of cumulative change.

8.84 In order 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 and its setting, developers 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 full and proper understanding of the significance of the heritage asset and its setting;
  • The heritage asset is being put to the optimum viable use consistent with its physical conservation, and the conservation of its character and setting;
  • Opportunities to sustain, enhance, to better reveal or avoid or minimise harm to the significance of the asset have been taken; and
  • The need to be met by the development could not be met in a more beneficial or less harmful way.

8.85 As a general principle, in assessing the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a heritage asset, the more important the asset, the greater the weight given to its conservation. For designated heritage assets, all levels of harm, including total destruction, minor physical harm, and harm through change to setting should be avoided. Harm to designated heritage assets will/ should be permitted only in exceptional circumstances, and would require a clear and convincing justification on the grounds of public benefits that outweigh that harm, taking account of the great weight that must be given to conservation.

8.86 In line with the NPPF, only in 'exceptional' circumstances should there be substantial harm to or loss of Grade II listed buildings and registered parks and gardens; and only in 'wholly exceptional' circumstances in the case of assets of the highest significance, including Grade I or II* listed buildings and registered parks and gardens, and Blenheim World Heritage Site. A separate policy on the Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site is set out in Section 9 (Policy EW1 applies).

8.87 Substantial harm to, or total loss of, the significance of a designated asset should be avoided, and would only be approved in exceptional circumstances, and if substantial public benefits can be demonstrated that outweigh the harm or loss or all four tests set out in paragraph 133 of the NPPF can be met (see footnote to Policy EH7). A key factor in determining what constitutes substantial harm is if the adverse impact goes to the heart of why an asset is worthy of designation and, thus, special protection.

8.88 New development in Conservation Areas and within the setting of heritage assets should preserve or enhance their setting, particularly those features which make a positive contribution to the character of the area and better reveal the significance of an asset.

8.89 Information submitted in support of development proposals affecting heritage assets in West Oxfordshire should include reference, where available, to the 'historic environment record' including: statutory designations; the Council's Conservation Area Appraisals and the West Oxfordshire Design Guide; known archaeological sites and monuments kept by the Oxfordshire County Council; local consultations, and detailed exploratory and survey work, including archaeological field evaluations and building recording, 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.

8.90 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 affected, and of any archaeology or historic fabric revealed in the course of development. The record and any recovered archaeological artefacts will need to be maintained to contribute to knowledge and understanding of the asset.

8.91 Policy EH7 summarises the Council's overall approach to the District's historic environment. (Policies OS2 and OS4 address the historic environment within the context of the Plan's overall strategy.) Sustainable development means safeguarding and seeking improvements to the quality of this historic environment and its heritage assets for this and future generations. One of the best ways to secure the upkeep of many heritage assets is to keep them in active, viable and appropriate use, where this can be achieved without causing harm to the character, fabric or setting of the heritage asset, and where a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness can be successfully maintained. This 'constructive conservation approach' requires a thorough understanding of what makes a site important, and collaborative working between the local authority, owners, local community, developers, architects and other specialists (such as Historic England), in order to manage change in the most appropriate way.

8.92 The Council's aim to conserve and enhance our historic environment and local distinctiveness, and to positively manage change, will be informed by a series of measures which will help to improve the understanding of the District's historic environment. These include the review of the West Oxfordshire Design Guide, a programme of conservation area reviews, appraisals and management plans, the designation of new conservation areas where appropriate, and the identification of further non-designated heritage assets and the publication of local lists. Article 4 Directions will be used to protect areas where there is clear justification to introduce stricter controls.

6. Section 12 of the NPPF and national guidance, for example, from Historic England, Natural England and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, are particularly relevant. [back]


Policy EH7 - Historic Environment


All development proposals should conserve or enhance the special character and distinctiveness of West Oxfordshire's historic environment, and preserve or enhance the District's heritage assets, and their significance and settings.

Proposals affecting non-designated heritage assets, such as locally listed buildings, will be assessed on the basis of the significance of the heritage asset and the scale of harm or loss to that heritage asset. The Council's Conservation Area Appraisals should be used as a guide when assessing the significance of a heritage asset.

Proposals that will lead to harm to the significance of a designated or non-designated heritage asset or its setting will be resisted, unless a clear and convincing justification can be made to outweigh that harm.

Proposals that will lead to substantial harm to or total loss of the significance of a heritage asset or its setting, will be refused, unless the harm is outweighed by substantial, demonstrable public benefits or all the four tests set out in the NPPF are met*.

* Paragraph 133 of the NPPF:

1. There is no viable use of the heritage asset that can be found in the medium term, including through marketing to find alternative owners

2. The heritage asset is preventing all reasonable uses of the site

3. Public support for or ownership of the asset is demonstrably not possible; and

4. The harm or loss is outweighed by the benefits of bringing the site back into use