Open space design

Goal: A range of open spaces, with clear purpose, that are accessible and can be used by all

  p62. All open space should be safe, attractive, and, where appropriate, publicly accessible. Open space should be of a size, location, and form appropriate for the intended use. Open spaces will avoid Space Left Over After Planning (SLOAP), narrow corridor spaces, and should not simply distribute open space to the periphery of the development. There is a fine line between small spaces that can contribute positively and large verges that do not serve a useful function. Landscape should not be used as a divisive measure between new and existing development.

  p63. New and existing landscapes and open spaces should be linked to form connected green networks, create areas for visual amenity, recreational use, and facilitate wildlife habitats. Where direct links are not possible, it may be appropriate to link these together through green routes, shared surface streets, and boulevards. Tree lined avenues can achieve a visual and physical connection to open space.

  p64. Open spaces need to offer choice for the needs and desires of all users. For example, they may provide outdoor gym equipment, edible gardens, vertical gardens, allotments, etc. By offering choice, you will address the needs of more people and may encourage healthier lifestyle choices. When creating the range of open spaces for the development, it is important to offer choice for all users.

  p65. Inclusive design will allow children, young people, and adults of all ages to interact with and enjoy their local open space together. The key to inclusive design of public open space is: safe, fully accessible pedestrian and cycle routes, even and stable paths with appropriate gradients, and places to rest.

General design considerations for open space

 Figure 35

  Figure 32: Design considerations for formal open space and focal points


Inform your design:

Use the development opportunities and constraints plan to identify what types of open spaces are in the local area. Choose open spaces that will complement and/or add to the range of uses;

Refer to the councils’ open space standards to identify the technical requirements and dimensions of types of open space;

Refer to the Developers Contributions Supplementary Planning Documents which sets out the open space requirements for new developments, in terms of quantity, quality, and accessibility

Communicate your design:

Prepare a Landscape Strategy showing the location and identifying the purpose of the open space. Include the type of furniture and equipment to be provided in the space, and how the open spaces coordinate with other design requirements of the site, such as biodiversity and drainage;

Illustrate how the open spaces work together with existing open spaces in the local area. Explain how they provide a range of different spaces;

Provide a landscape management plan to illustrate how the site will be maintained, both during establishment and longer term.

Support your design:

Building for a Healthy Life (2020)

Healthy weight environments: using the planning system

Active by Design (2014)

Active Design, planning for health and wellbeing through sport and physical activity (2015)

South Oxfordshire District Councils’ Developer Contribution SPDs (2021)

Vale of White Horse District Councils’ Developer Contribution SPDs (2021)

Sport England's Active Design Guidance

A good practice guide to disabled people’s access in the countryside (2005)

National Disability Strategy (2021)


Example of informal recreation (Abbey meadow, Abingdon)
Example of well-integrated formal play benefiting from natural surveillance (Sutton Courtenay)
Example of well-integrated formal play (John Leigh, Manchester)
Incidental play (Buscot Park, Faringdon)

Ensure space(s):

    1. are not pushed to the periphery of the development and are properly integrated with the rest of the development;
    2. have a clear purpose; they are ‘usable’, are of the right size, shape, and layout;
    3. meet the needs of all users, are safe, attractive, and accessible;
    4. include open space that is accessible for all users, including people with disabilities, parents / carers, pregnant women, teenagers, children, and older people;
    5. offer a choice for the needs and desires of all users (for example; a waiting space next to a school, space to fly a kite or kick a football, an outdoor gym, socialising areas, or seating close to entrances for those less mobile);
    6. recognise the need to preserve quiet open spaces;
    7. use the natural features identified in the opportunities and constraints plan as focal points;
    8. are integrated as part of the natural landscape features of the scheme and located so that residents can access them easily and directly; this will provide instant ‘maturity’ as well as creating windbreaks, visual screening, and shelter;
    9. are linked with existing spaces to form connected green networks along key walking and cycling routes;
    10. are located within walking distance (easily accessible) of new and existing development;
    11. are appropriately defined and bounded by buildings with windows providing natural surveillance;
    12. are not dominated with parking, especially at the ends of street and pedestrian/ cycle corridors;
    13. include opportunities to encourage local food growing such as: community orchards, provision of allotments, and other community garden projects;
    14. provide opportunities to have access to community gardens or enough space to grow food (e.g. a roof, allotments, communal gardens or a balcony);
    15. provides opportunities for people to engage with a place through their senses (sensory richness);
    16. are delivered in an early phase.**

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