Didcot Further Expansion

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1 Didcot Further Expansion Landscape and Visual Resources Appendix 2 to the RPS Examination Statement Prepared by: October 2011 RPS Mallams Court 18 Milton Park Abingdon Oxon OX14 4RP Tel Fax

2 Contents Page No 1 Introduction 1 General Methodology 2 Landscape Evidence Base 3 General Option E (Area 4) Option A (Area 7) 3 SODC LDF Evidence Base 7 Didcot Background Study 2006 South Oxfordshire Submission Core Strategy Didcot Background Paper March Analysis of Options 9 SODC Master Plan for Option A RPS Master Plan for Option E 5 Conclusions 11 Figures Figure 1: Landscape Constraints and Proposals: Option E (Search Area 4) Figure 2: Landscape Constraints and Proposals: Option A (Search Area 7) RPS i Didcot Further Expansion

3 1 Introduction General 1.1 This report contains an analysis of landscape and visual issues associated with South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) proposals for the future expansion of Didcot. The report provides a technical background to the Hearing Statement and has been prepared on behalf of Taylor Wimpey Developments. 1.2 The report will demonstrate that SODC s preferred option to expand Didcot to the north east as opposed to the south west, contiguous with the Great Western Park expansion, is not justified by the evidence base of landscape assessment work previously undertaken for SODC. 1.3 Chapter 1 provides a reference to the SODC Landscape Character Assessment and definitions of terminology subsequently used within SODC documents and this study. 1.4 Chapter 2 provides a description of landscape and visual resources at Option areas A and E and recommendations from the Machin Bate Associates report. 1.5 Chapter 3 reviews other documents within the SODC evidence base. 1.6 Chapter 4 provides an analysis of SODC s choice of preferred future expansion option. Methodology Landscape Character Assessment 1.7 The current landscape character assessment for the South Oxfordshire District is the South Oxfordshire Landscape Assessment (SOLA) report prepared by Atlantic Consultants in 1998 and adopted as SPG in July This document provides the basis for the definition of landscape character areas and types which coincide with the search areas. The assessment also identifies the quality and condition of the landscape features and elements of landscape types and how this relates to future enhancement strategies for the District. A definition of the strategies is as follows; Conserve - this strategy applies where the landscape is of particularly high scenic quality, is unspoilt, retains a strong, intact landscape structure and sense of place, and often contains areas or features of ecological or cultural heritage significance. In these landscapes, conservation is an overwhelming priority in order to maintain landscape character and quality. RPS 1 Didcot Further Expansion

4 Repair - this strategy applies to those landscapes which have a positive rural character, attractive qualities and where character, landscape structure and sense of place are still comparatively strong but which are not special or distinctive to quite the same degree as those in the above category. These landscapes are also important to conserve but would benefit from some enhancement, in order to repair slightly weakened landscape structure and quality, and to reinforce and strengthen local distinctiveness. Restore - this strategy applies to those landscapes which retain a rural and essentially attractive character but where landscape elements and structure are in decline, largely through intensive farming practices. Field enlargement, removal or deterioration of boundary walls and hedges and the loss of trees, woodlands and other vegetation have substantially weakened landscape structure and sense of place. The priority in these landscapes is to restore landscape structure and diversity and to strengthen local distinctiveness. Reconstruct - this strategy applies in those areas where the character and quality of the landscape has been substantially modified by poor land management, nonagricultural land uses, or intrusive features, e.g. airfields, built development, mineral extraction, roads, power lines etc. They require more significant intervention to mitigate the influence of detracting land uses or features, to raise landscape quality and to reconstruct landscape character and identity. 1.8 The enhancement strategies described above have been adopted within the Didcot Area Housing Study - Landscape Considerations Machin Bate Associates report. Machin Bate Associates are a firm of Landscape Architect s who were commissioned by SODC in 2006 to undertake an assessment of the 9 potential search areas for future expansion at Didcot. The report provides an important aspect of the landscape and visual element of SODC s evidence base. The landscape strategies described above provide the basis for a key decision making tool to identify the landscapes where development would be most appropriate. RPS 2 Didcot Further Expansion

5 2 Landscape Evidence Base General 2.1 The landscape and visual assessment which forms the evidence base and an important aspect of SODC s decision to locate future expansion at Didcot is contained within the Machin Bate report. The following chapter provides a factual baseline of landscape and visual resources for area Options A and E. The recommendations at paras. 2.8, 2.9, 2.11 and 2.16 are extracted from the Machin Bate report with additional commentary provided by RPS. Option E (Search Area 4) Landscape Context 2.2 The search area is defined by the A34 in the west, the B4493 Wantage Road in the north west, the A417 and the village of West Hagbourne in the south, Park Road in the east and the Great Western Park (GWP) allocation to the north which currently comprises farmland. Landscape Character 2.3 The SOLA defines landscape character in the vicinity of the search area as the Wessex Downs and Western Vale Fringes area which is divided into two types; Open Rolling Downs which is defined within the SOLA as a restore/repair landscape and Semi-enclosed Rolling Downs which is defined as a conserve landscape. North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty 2.4 The AONB lies immediately to the south of the A417 which forms the southern boundary of the search area. The designation extends south over rising ground at Hagbourne Hill. Land Use 2.5 The landform within the northern and eastern parts of the search area is relatively flat, rising up gently to a high point in the south west corner where the A417 crosses the landscape. The boundaries of the arable and pasture fields within the search area are defined by well maintained hedgerows in some areas, whilst the majority of boundaries are undefined or are formed by gappy remnant hedgerows which contribute to a weak landscape structure. Land to the north between the search area and the existing settlement boundary of Didcot forms the GWP allocation. Development at the allocation site will significantly alter the context of the search area. The future development will be contained by a framework of landscaped open spaces which would form a buffer between GWP and the search area site. RPS 3 Didcot Further Expansion

6 Visual Resources 2.6 Views into the search area are concentrated at the edges of West Hagbourne and the A417. Occupiers of residential properties within the village gain relatively open views into the search area and people travelling on the A417, where roadside vegetation is limited, gain views across the landscape from rising ground. The GWP development would extend the settlement of Didcot south west towards these receptors, significantly altering the view. Most views towards the search area by people travelling on the A34 and B4493 Wantage Road are obscured by vegetation. Constraints 2.7 The south western corner of the search area site, which extends over rising topography adjoining the A417, is the most visually exposed due to a lack of significant hedgerows and vegetation boundaries. A countryside gap between the settlements of Didcot and West Hagbourne would need to be maintained. Recommendations in the Didcot Area Housing Study Landscape Considerations Report 2.8 The recommendations within the Machin Bate report include No development of the SOLA designated conserve landscape which coincides with the small fields with intact hedgerows which form a strong landscape structure on the northern edge of West Hagbourne. The Machin Bate report also acknowledged the need for a gap between Didcot and West Hagbourne which would occupy this land and a belt to the west of Park Road which could be maintained as a green corridor to improve the landscape gateway and improved sense of arrival at Didcot for people approaching on this route. The Machin Bate report recommends No development of the most visually sensitive parts of the area, particularly in the south west towards the A417 where the search area adjoins the AONB. 2.9 The Machin Bate report ultimately states that there is scope for LIMITED DEVELOPMENT contiguous with the GWP allocated site and that an additional modicum of development is unlikely to affect detrimentally the view that already includes perspectives in which there are layers of development. Option A (Search Area 7) Landscape Context 2.10 The search area is defined by the Didcot to Oxford railway line to the west, the A4130 Northern Perimeter Road to the south, the Appleford to Long Wittenham Road to the north and several field boundaries at the base of Down Hill to the east. RPS 4 Didcot Further Expansion

7 Landscape Character 2.11 The SOLA defines landscape character in the vicinity of the search area as the River Thames Corridor and the Wessex Downs and Western Vale Fringes areas. These two character areas are sub-divided into types as follows; the River Thames Corridor comprises the Flat Open Farmland type which is defined within the SOLA as a restore landscape, the Flat Semi-enclosed Farmland type defined as a repair landscape and the Parkland and Estate Farmland type which is defined as a conserve landscape. The Wessex Downs and Western Vale Fringes area comprises the Open Rolling Downs type which is defined as a restore landscape and Semi-enclosed Rolling Downs which is defined within the SOLA as a conserve landscape. North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty 2.12 Although the search area lies outside of the designation, the AONB adjoins part of the eastern boundary of the area and extends east over rising land at Down Hill. Land Use 2.13 The majority of the search area, west of Abingdon Road, is relatively flat comprising medium sized arable and pasture fields enclosed by a range of low maintained, overgrown and gappy remnant hedgerows. A small copse lies in the centre of this area. Isolated mature trees form landscape remnants of previous hedgerows, creating an impression of a parkland character adjoining the A4130 west of Abingdon Road. East of Abingdon Road the landform rises up at the base of Down Hill. In the south eastern corner of the search area the fields are much smaller and hedgerow boundaries are well defined with more numerous trees, creating a more intimate scale of landscape. The extensive residential development of the Ladygrove estate south of the A4130 forms a strong urban edge and distinctive change in character from the rural landscape of the search area to the north. Visual Resources 2.14 Views into the search area are predominantly gained by people travelling along the A4130 where intermittent roadside vegetation alternately obscures and frames views. Elevated vantage points at Down Hill also allow receptors to gain open views over much of the search area and surrounding rural/urban context. Views from the Abingdon Road are contained by vegetation for much of its length, retaining a rural character for this gateway approach to Didcot. RPS 5 Didcot Further Expansion

8 Constraints 2.15 Much of the land in the south east corner, either side of Abingdon Road, is defined as a conserve landscape and should be retained. Rising land on the eastern side of the site at Down Hill is the most visually exposed within the search area and also provides locations for views back over the landscape from the edge of the AONB. The A4130 provides an existing well defined edge to development at Didcot. The approach to Didcot on the Abingdon Road provides a rural gateway to the town. Recommendations in the Didcot Area Housing Study Landscape Considerations Report 2.16 Due to the constraints referred to the Machin Bate report recommends NO DEVELOPMENT proposed. However in the event that some development is necessary some EXCEPTIONALLY LIMITED POTENTIAL DEVELOPMENT is identified in the south western, central part of the site. Encroachment of development east towards the Abingdon Road should be avoided to protect the rural landscape defined as conserve within the SOLA and maintain the rural corridor either side of the Abingdon Road. It is also recommended that development adjoining the A4130 should be avoided in order to maintain what is an important buffer. Development north of the copse should be avoided as this would create an unbalanced edge to Didcot and the Machin Bate report considers that it would represent an apparent uncontrolled vestigial extension, even more unrelated to development in the locality. RPS 6 Didcot Further Expansion

9 3 SODC LDF Evidence Base Didcot Background Study The purpose of this study is to provide background information to enable SODC, VWHDC and Oxfordshire County Council to advise on the division of future housing development at Didcot between the two districts. The study looks at possible development areas within and adjacent to the built up area including land adjoining the proposed GWP. 3.2 The report provides a brief summary of the attributes and issues associated with each of the 9 option areas, including reference to the Machin Bate landscape assessment report. Protection of the countryside gap between Didcot and West Hagbourne is referred to as a key issue at Area 4 (Option E). The summary of Area 7 (Option A) states at para that development of this area would be highly visible from the rising ground to the north east near Wittenham Clumps and therefore potentially the most intrusive of the nine potential development areas in the landscape. The Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) for Didcot is also referred to and recommends that built development should be restricted to the eastern half of the area as the western part of the area is liable to flood. 3.3 Within the overall assessment section the report goes on to state at para for Area 7 The high visibility of development in this area within the wider landscape, together with the fact that only the eastern half of the area would be suitable for built development suggests that any extension northwards should be limited. This statement uses the recommendation within the SFRA to locate development in a specific part of the area, however it ignores similar recommendations in the Machin Bate report which states that the eastern half of the area should not be developed as it is highly visible in the landscape, coincides with the conserve landscape of the SOLA and forms part of the rural approach to Didcot on the Abingdon Road. South Oxfordshire Submission Core Strategy Didcot Background Paper March The report summarises the disadvantages, in landscape terms, of the future growth housing Options. At Option E the south east part of the area is recognised as a conserve landscape by the SOLA and that the important gap between Didcot and West Hagbourne would be physically reduced in size following development. 3.5 The presence of a conserve landscape in the south east corner is also recognised for Option A. The Abingdon Road corridor provides an important rural approach to Didcot which may be diminished following development. The report also refers to the western half of the areas liability to flood however, at para. 64 it states that this land is not required to accommodate RPS 7 Didcot Further Expansion

10 housing implying that the eastern part of the area would accommodate housing. No mention is made of the eastern areas unsuitability for development due to the rising nature of the landform and its visual sensitivity in the landscape due to near open views from Down Hill immediately to the east within the AONB and Wittenham Clumps further to the north east. 3.6 Within the final strategy section of the report at para. 81 the reduction in the gap between Didcot and West Hagbourne appears to be the most significant landscape issue in determining SODC s decision not to develop Option E. The report states that The Didcot Landscape Assessment prepared by Machin Bates indicates that the presence of a gap could be maintained through the development of Option E. However the gap would be physically reduced in size. Locating all of the housing provision north of Didcot at Option A and A+ would avoid having to reduce the size of this gap. RPS 8 Didcot Further Expansion

11 4 Analysis of Options 4.1 The Didcot Area Housing Study - Landscape Considerations report prepared by Machin Bate Associates provides a comprehensive assessment of the relative merits of the 9 search Areas for future development at Didcot. At paragraph of the Summary and Conclusions section of the study it states that The overriding conclusion is that there is no one Search Area that is an ideal candidate for development. Each has disadvantages in landscape and visual terms. Regardless of how development is laid out on the preferred sites some landscape and visual harm is inevitable. 4.2 The recommendations within the Machin Bate report have not been consistently adopted within SODC s decision making process. Area 7 (Option A) was not recommended for development, or if essential EXCEPTIONALLY LIMITED POTENTIAL DEVELOPMENT is identified in the south western, central part of the site. A clear steer regarding the limited location of development was provided, notwithstanding the areas conflict with the zone liable to flood. In order for SODC to deliver the full housing allocation within Option 7 it cannot avoid encroaching onto land that its own study, prepared by Machin Bate Associates, clearly recommended that it should not. 4.3 Area 4 (Option E) was recommended for LIMITED DEVELOPMENT. Careful siting of development and the incorporation of extensive landscape proposals would be sufficient to reduce effects on the landscape character and views to an acceptable level. Comparison of Master Plan Proposals SODC Master Plan for Option A 4.4 The SODC master plan proposes housing on the central section of the option area west of Abingdon Road (see Figure 2). The majority of this area is defined in the Machin Bate report as NO DEVELOPMENT PROPOSED. No development is proposed east of the Abingdon Road. No development is proposed in the south west corner of the option area which is recommended for development in the Machin Bate report. This areas liability to flood has formed a key determining factor in SODC s decision to exclude it from the area of built development, proposing playing fields instead. 4.5 By placing development as shown in the SODC master plan the proposal would be; Visually prominent in views gained by sensitive receptors on rising ground within the AONB at Down Hill, Compromise the setting of the rural approach on Abingdon Road and the sense of arrival at Didcot, RPS 9 Didcot Further Expansion

12 Conflict with most of the conserve landscape west of Abingdon Road, Extend north into the landscape creating an unbalanced form to the settlement, and Jump the defensible edge currently provided by the A The location of development conflicts with the Machin Bate report recommendations in terms of all of the previously defined constraints and therefore would be potentially the most intrusive of the nine potential development areas in the landscape. Development of this search area as shown in the master plan is not justified by the evidence base. RPS Master Plan for Option E 4.7 By contrast the master plan for option E locates development almost entirely on land which the Machin Bate report defined as a Potential housing site (see Figure 1). Development in this location would; Preserve enough of the countryside gap between Didcot and West Hagbourne to retain the integrity of this policy, Avoid all of the conserve landscape at West Hagbourne, Protect the rural approach to Didcot on Park Road, and Avoid developing the most visually sensitive rising land adjoining the AONB to the south of the option land. 4.8 The small area of development in the north east corner of the search area, outside of the area recommended in the Machin Bate report, would replace the landscape buffer included on the edge of the GWP proposal. This planting would not be required if development is extended to the south and a new landscape buffer incorporated into the future extension master plan. RPS 10 Didcot Further Expansion

13 5 Conclusions 5.1 The analysis of landscape and visual issues within this report, associated with SODC s proposals for the future expansion of Didcot, demonstrates that SODC s preferred option to expand the town to the north east as opposed to the south west is not justified by the evidence base of assessment work undertaken for SODC. 5.2 Recommendations within the SODC commissioned Machin Bate Report regarding the most appropriate locations for built development within Option Areas have been largely disregarded by SODC, resulting in a master plan proposal for their preferred Area 7 (Option A) which would be significantly more detrimental to landscape and visual receptors than proposed development at Area 4 (Option E). RPS 11 Didcot Further Expansion

14 Figures RPS Didcot Further Expansion

15 Figure 1 Landscape Constraints and Proposals: Option E (Search Area 4) RPS Didcot Further Expansion

16 Legend Search Area 4 80m B4493 Wantage Road Potential Housing Site (Machin Bate Report) Proposed Built Develpment National Trail Bridleway Footpath Great Western Park Other South Oxfordshire Landscape Assessment 'Conserve' Landscape 70m AONB Harwell Didcot A34 Park Road 80m Coscote Rev: Date: Amendment: Name: Checked: Path: O:\2016B Didcot Expansion\Tech\GIS\2016D_110830MP_Landscape_Constraints_Option_E_RevA.mxd 120m 120m 130m 110m 100m 90m A417 West Hagbourne 70m 60m 60m Data Source: RPS 2011 Status: Mallams Court 18 Milton Park Abingdon Oxon Ox14 4RP T F E W Client: Title: Scale: 1:10, m Date: Sept 2011 Drawn: MP Checked: PE Job Ref: OXF2016 Figure No: DRAFT Taylor Wimpey Project: Didcot Further Expansion Landscape Constraints & Proposals Option E (Search Area 4) L01 Datum: OSGB36 Projection: BNG Revision: ± - Crown copyright, All rights reserved License number

17 Figure 2 Landscape Constraints and Proposals: Option A (Search Area 7) RPS Didcot Further Expansion

18 80m 60m Legend Search Area 7 Potential Housing Site (Machin Bate Report) Proposed Built Development (Land at North East Didcot, Development Framework Document, March 2011) National Trail Bridleway Footpath Other South Oxfordshire Landscape Assessment 'Conserve' Landscape Moor Ditch 50m AONB Flood Zone 1 Flood Zone 2 Views from Public Rights of Way on Elevated Land 70m Railway Line B4016 Abingdon Road Southmead Industrial Estate Rev: Date: Amendment: Name: Checked: Path: O:\2016B Didcot Expansion\Tech\GIS\2016D_110830MP_Landscape_Constraints_Option_A_RevA.mxd 70m 60m Ladygrove A4130 Northern Perimeter Road Golf Course Data Source: RPS 2011 Status: Mallams Court 18 Milton Park Abingdon Oxon Ox14 4RP T F E W Client: Title: Scale: 1:10, m Date: Sept 2011 Drawn: MP Checked: PE Job Ref: OXF2016 Figure No: DRAFT Taylor Wimpey Project: Didcot Further Expansion Landscape Constraints & Proposals Option A (Search Area 7) L02 Datum: OSGB36 Projection: BNG Revision: ± - Crown copyright, All rights reserved License number

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