Vale of the White Horse Design Guide

Setting clear design principles to guide future development within the district and to encourage a design-led approach to development


The Vale of White Horse is a beautiful district rich in architecture and landscape quality. The villages and towns of the district are successful, lively settlements that generally convey a robust historic quality. However the district is experiencing unprecedented pressure for major new housing and employment development.

Design Guide

The challenge presented by the commission was to develop a Design Guide that was both user-friendly and that would promote development that is responsive to place.

Whilst the settlements within the Vale of White Horse are rich in character this has not been reflected in recent residential development much of which is ‘standard product’ that is insensitive to its setting. Many of these new developments have also been of a significant scale unprecedented in the area and the Council were ill equipped to respond to the new development pressures.

The Design Guide needed to provide guidance at all scales from small-scale residential extensions and building refurbishments to large urban extensions of several thousand homes. It was also important that the Guide was easy to use by a range of users from council development control officers, to local householders and developers.

User friendly

The Design Guide is an interactive document that can be easily navigated to respond to the scale and type of application. Checklists are provided for each section and these can be used by officers to guide applicants on what they need to consider in developing their proposals and to point out where there are shortcomings or where issues are not appropriately addressed.

The Design Guide is bespoke to the Vale and reflects the special character of the area, the pattern of settlements and the historic development and local vernacular. The Vale is not a uniform District – there are variations in landscape type, and prevalent materials and distinctive design types vary across the area. We worked with Proctor Matthews Architects to crystalise the important characteristics and these are enshrined in the Guide. It is not however overly prescriptive but rather adopts a ‘how to do’ approach. The Guide is illustrated by case studies and a design story tested on an imagined site.

As an Advisor to the Vale on major applications and site allocations selection we use the Guide as a tool to test and critique emerging proposals. In turn developers have responded to its recommendations and the Guide is proving to have weight in discussions on design approach and quality.




Vale of White Horse District Council


Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire


Urban Initiatives Studio
Proctor & Matthews Architects


February 2014 - March 2015


The Design Guide was adopted by the Council in March 2015