The design of streets

Goal: Attractive streets and spaces defined by buildings rather than the highway

  p39. Designers often talk about the definition and enclosure of streets and spaces. This simply means how the height and width of the buildings and the gaps between them relate to the width of the street or space in front of them and the buildings on the other side.

  p40. Enclosure is mostly created by a strong building line but also by well-defined boundaries and street trees. You can also use enclosure to create variety and visual interest with subtle changes in street widths, building heights, and street angles. This can help an attractive street scene unfold at a human scale and provide opportunities to surprise and delight with these changes.

  p41. The boundary treatment between public and private spaces can take many forms including planting, hedges, railings, walls and fencing. Sometimes it is appropriate to have a physical barrier, for example, the change from public to private space can be shown by a change in materials. Your choice of boundary treatment should reflect the high-quality treatments used in the local area. It is important to provide a clear distinction between public and private space.

 Figure 13

  Figure 13:
Street types, scale, proportion and enclosure define a space

Primary streets

Figure 15(a)

Primary street with tree planted verges and segregated cycle lanes

Figure 15(b)

Primary street, alternative arrangement with tree planted verge and integrated cycle lane

  Figure 14:
Examples of primary streets incorporating tree planting and cycle lanes

Secondary streets

Figure 16(a)

Secondary street with tree planted verges and segregated pathway

Figure 16(a)

Secondary street no verge or tree planting, alternative arrangement

  Figure 15:
Examples of secondary streets incorporating tree planting

Tertiary streets and mews

Figure 17(a)

Private drive, facing open space

Figure 17(b)

Standard mews (left) and green mews (right)

  Figure 16:
Examples of tertiary streets including private drives and mews

Streets and shared surfaces

Figure 18(a)

Shared surface street, verge with tree planting

Figure 18(b)

Shared surface street, soft landscaping / planting

  Figure 17:
Examples of shared surface streets incorporating tree planting and landscaping


Inform your design:

Assessment of street definition and enclosure in the local area; the measurement of building heights and street widths and the continuity of buildings along the streets (the gaps between buildings and their distance from the street edge).

Communicate your design:

Demonstrate how the definition and enclosure of the streets and spaces reflect that of the local area;

Prepare a plan showing the location of all active frontages, and key buildings;

Provide details of the boundary treatment to be used including the height.

Support your design:

Oxfordshire Streets Design Guide (Sep 2021)

Building for a Healthy Life (2020)


Enclosed streets provide good definition of space
Streets as part of the public realm (Abingdon)
Private drives integrated with landscaping (Didcot)
Shared surface lanes with landscaping (Didcot)

Ensure the scheme:

    1. has streets where buildings and landscaping rather than the highway (including parking) are visually dominant;
    2. encourages movement by prioritising the needs of pedestrians, people with disabilities, cyclists and public transport users, over the needs of motorists within the design of streets. Applicants should refer to Manual for Streets 1 (2007) and 2 (2010);
    3. includes trees and soft landscaping that create character and distinction between street types. The species provided must be appropriate to the environment and their location, both at the time of planting and maturity and; therefore, provide adequate space for soil volume to allow root growth and for canopy growth;
    4. demonstrates that the long-term maintenance and management of landscape elements has been considered through a management and maintenance plan;
    5. does not result in a conflict between street trees, their location or planting requirements, drainage and street lighting. Engage with the County Council's highways department and adoptions team early to ensure an overall high quality masterplanning and design approach;
    6. designs residential streets to a maximum speed of 20 mph and integrates natural methods of traffic calming within the street design (i.e. landscape-led traffic calming);
    7. avoids tarmac and uses porous materials for non-adopted roads and pavements (consider non-slip paving);
    8. provides continuous and generous footpaths to meet the needs of all users (including the visually impaired), including dropped kerbs and gradients, and to allow enough room for wheelchairs and pushchairs to be used safely and comfortably (minimum of 2m width);
    9. considers shared services/home zones on lower order streets and/or local centres, next to public spaces, or other appropriate locations. When designing shared surfaces, incorporate permeable paving, consider tactile/colour contrast material details to cater for visually and mobility impaired people;
    10. has incorporated and designed social spaces, providing places for people to shade and shelter, rest, gather, interact, and spectate therefore contributing to health and wellbeing.

Note: All design principles are applicable to all scales of development unless otherwise specified; *minor applications, **major applications