Design Statement Summary
The Design Statement was published in 2005, following three years of preparation, and its key messages remain very relevant. In particular, consultation responses to the emerging Neighbourhood Plan echo the idea of preserving the special character of the parish, whilst still providing scope for new development and innovative design solutions. Egerton already has a diverse pattern of building styles, representing several centuries, and it would be wrong to try and freeze the settlement in any particular period of time. However, each of those periods of development has attractive features that deserve protection and repetition where appropriate.
The Statement claims its purpose to be ensuring that new development in the parish respects, understands and enhances the existing character of Egerton, by influencing the design of any further development so that the visual distinctiveness of the parish can be maintained. That distinctiveness is defined by the unique and pleasing characteristics that make Egerton special, comfortable with its surroundings and generally different to other places. Stated objectives include ensuring new development positively contributes to the special character, better reflects the wishes of local people, follows a local design guide on specific features and materials, and allows meaningful discussion between developers and the local community and decision makers.
Research highlighted the fact that the special character of Egerton derived from factors such as the strong community spirit, the local history and economy of the area, the historic pattern of settlement, and the landscape, local geology and natural environment, rather than just the human imprint of the built development. Whilst the Statement is primarily concerned with buildings, all these factors should have some influence on the type of development, if the existing character is to be maintained. Developments that fail to respect these factors can seriously erode the special character of the parish, such as the indiscriminate introduction of ‘off-the-peg’ building designs, typically imported from suburban settings where the scale, style and appearance of buildings can be quite different to a rural setting. Poor choices of building materials can also erode character.
The Statement explores the different areas of the parish in terms of human settlement, discovering that together they comprise a loose grouping of neighbourhoods and farmsteads, without clear boundaries and hard edges to built development. That pattern reflects more the farming heritage of the locality, which to some extent Twentieth Century development has distorted by concentrating new development in and amongst existing properties. Whilst commendably reducing intrusion into the wider open countryside, that has increased the density of development, and also reduced openness by infilling spaces and inadvertently urbanising some parts. Universal street signs and alien road markings then unhelpfully reinforce such change.
The Statement recognises that changes come in many forms, not just new houses, but also extensions to existing houses, the addition of ancillary buildings (like garages, sheds, stables, etc.), and the alteration of buildings with replacement windows, doors, porches, gates, walls and fences, etc. To assist all those deciding about both new development and changes to existing properties, the Statement includes a ‘Style Guide’ with some general pointers as well as some specific recommendations on aspects such as choice of external building materials (eg. specific brick types). Note that this is aimed not just at the Borough Council and the Parish Council, but also developers, architects, householders, farmers, landowners and local businesses. As the Highway Authority, Kent County Council also has a key involvement with roads and footpaths.
The Style Guide is framed to allow new development to respect the scale (size and proportions), and density (spacing and positioning) of earlier development, provide an appealing sense of intimacy and informality, and use locally sourced building materials. More detailed guidelines are provided on new buildings, extensions and conversions, windows and doors, roofs and walls, gates and boundaries, garages and outbuildings, highways and footways, street furniture, rights of way and open spaces, as well as referencing suitable brick and tile suppliers. Examples of where the Style Guide has influenced the design and layout of new development include the recent housing at Chandlers Meadow in Egerton Forstal, which has successfully been integrated into the street scene without harming the special character of the locality.