About the guide

This Design Guide has been prepared as part of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils’ commitment to securing the highest quality development within the districts.

The guide builds upon and replaces previous local design guides and aligns with the National Design Guide (2019). It is intended to assist landowners, developers, applicants, agents, designers, and planners in the process of developing high quality development and in assessing its design quality.

The guide is a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), and as such, will be a material consideration in determining planning applications submitted to the Council. It carries considerable weight in decision-making, having been subject to scrutiny and amendment throughout a public consultation process.

Its purpose

To improve the standard of design in all developments in South Oxfordshire and the Vale and ensure that only developments of the highest quality and sustainability are delivered.

The guide:

  • is relevant for all scales of development (for example householder extensions, non-domestic buildings or large residential developments);
  • defines the meaning of relevant design phrases and terms;
  • must be read in conjunction with other statutory plans;
  • provides a simple set of design principles that applications should meet and are easy to follow;
  • helps applicants gain a better understanding of how to deliver good design by providing guidance on best practice, design principles and the terms and phrases used by design specialists;
  • provides an evaluation tool to help assess developments coming forward;
  • helps applicants to have the best chance of getting approval when considering design.

Design and Planning

There is a list of design principles set out in each chapter to be addressed by all applicants. These are used to assess schemes and their design at all planning application stages.

All applicants will be required to test their proposals against the lists of design principles that we will also use to assess the scheme against. By following this process, applicants will be more likely to obtain planning permission.

The delivery of high-quality development is dependent on undertaking a robust design and planning process. The diagrams below illustrate the process that we would strongly encourage all applicants to follow, to give yourself the best chance of securing planning permission with high-quality development.

Throughout the guide we will specify which design principles are applicable to which scales of development, major or minor applications. Unless otherwise specified, all design principles are applicable to all scales of development, a * indicates for minor applications only, ** indicates for major applications only. Supporting text is numbered throughout each theme for ease of reference.

We offer pre-application advice for new development and can draw on our design team to provide specialist input. We offer advice at all stages of the design process and for all scales of developments.

For more information about these services, please contact us or visit our website here:

To check if your proposal falls under permitted development see:

Additional guidance and documents beyond our guide

There is design guidance available beyond our guide at a national level, our design guide specifies what is best at a local level, as well as the Councils’ own local plans and neighbourhood plans. Neighbourhood Plans are part of the development plan and form and important part of the design process and therefore must be considered.

Major development

Major development is defined as; for housing, development where 10 or more homes will be provided, or the site has an area of 0.5 hectares or more. For non-residential development it means additional floorspace of 1,000m2 or more, or a site of 1 hectare or more, or as otherwise provided in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015.

Diagram 1

Minor development

Minor development is defined as; anything smaller than the criteria for major developments. That is development where less than 10 homes will be provided, or the site area less than 0.5 hectares. For non-residential development it means floorspace less than 1,000m2, or a site less than 1 hectare, or as the definition for major development is otherwise provided in the Town and Country Planning criteria less than stated for (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015.

Diagram 1

Follow the steps

These are aimed at helping you inform, communicate, and support the design decisions you make.

Inform your design:

Development has an instant and lasting impact on a place and on its surroundings. The impact of all new development needs to be properly understood and addressed.

Specific technical studies need to be undertaken to understand the features of a site and its surrounding area. For example, surveys that assess the quality of trees, landscape, or geology, identify the presence of a particular habitat or species, or identify transport and movement information. The results of these studies need proper consideration and should inform the design of your development.

Communicate your design:

When a planning application is made, or advice is sought from the councils, it is important that people can understand the design of your proposal. This guide demonstrates effective ways to communicate your design. A proposal that is visualised and well explained leads to better results when considering design.

Support your design:

There may be technical standards which need considering for different aspects of a proposal.

The most relevant of these are listed in each section of the guide, along with additional resources. These can be used to further support your design proposal through evidence-based practice.

Design principles

The design principles set out in the guide are the criteria by which we asses your design.

After each section:

This guide provides a set of design principles applicable to all scales of development (unless otherwise specified), for you to follow to achieve high-quality development.

You need to ensure your design meets the criteria; the councils will be assessing the scheme against them. Not all criteria are relevant to all design proposals, pre-application discussions will help determine what criteria are relevant to your proposal.


Technical terms are defined in the Glossary which can be found in the main Menu.


Throughout the website there are a series of interactive plans. These provide further information and design guidance on certain aspects through illustrated examples.

Click on the drawing to explore

Interactive drawing Rear garden Detached House Detached garage

Design objectives

Delivering high quality, sustainable and beautiful development

The main planning objectives of the UK government is to deliver sustainable, high quality and beautiful development.

What do we mean by sustainable development?

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is central to the economic, environmental and social success of the country and is the core principle underpinning planning. Simply stated, the principle recognises the importance of ensuring that all people should be able to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, both now and in the future.

Sustainable development is development that delivers places of high quality for everyone and will continue to work well into the future.

What do we mean by high quality?

Places that are of high quality are beautiful places and environments in which people want to live, work and visit. They allow us to carry out daily activities with ease and offer us choice in how to do them. In short, high-quality places enhance our lives and wellbeing.

What do we mean by places?

A place is more than just a building and the appearance of that building. It is how the buildings, streets and spaces work together, as well as how we use them and how they make us feel.

Design quality diagram