Understanding Local Distinctiveness seminar: Wednesday 12 September 2018

Understanding Local Distinctiveness: the challenge for new housing in town and country

Wednesday 12th September 2018, Kellogg College, Oxford
Bookings are now open for this event via
As development pressures are now being felt by settlements large and small, urban and rural, do we really understand what makes these places special and distinctive?

It is easy to find places around the UK where the quality and design of new housing creates a sense of placelessness, where the local context has played little part in the layout of new development, or where the visual appearance of new buildings bears little relationship to the area in general. 

Pin-pointing what makes one settlement different to the next is about identifying common characteristics, but also the variations between them due to topography, natural features, boundaries, links to elsewhere, materials and building types, and more. Without this detailed appreciation of context, how can we ensure that future development does not dilute local distinctiveness?   

House builders and developers, in seeking to operate as efficiently as possible have a library of house plans that are tried and tested in cost, buildability and durability terms.   These are used to suit local housing markets and different plots, but how can local character influence the design, layout and appearance of new development?

In this seminar, we will look beyond architectural pastiche and 'stick-on' architecture features to explore what makes one place different to another.  Finding ways to capture this distinctiveness and convey it to others is the key to sustaining a sense of place.

This seminar will examine:

  • Why local distinctiveness matters
  • How developers view local character in drawing up proposals
  • What makes local distinctiveness or the features that identify local character
  • How to inform plans for change and influence new proposals 
  • The mechanisms to capture local character in the design and planning process.


With expert speakers and a hands-on workshop, this seminar will enable delegates to test out toolkits to identify key considerations in local distinctiveness, and develop recommendations on what really matters.  These toolkits will be Oxford City Council's Character Assessment Toolkit and the RTPI's character assessment for neighbourhood plans, and using various areas around central Oxford as testbeds.

This seminar will be of interest to local authority officers and councillors, civic societies, amenity and local community groups, and development planning and design consultants with an interest in urban design.


Tea and coffee on arrival
Welcome, Louise Thomas, HTVF Director
Why local distinctiveness matters, Ivor Samuels, urban designer, Visiting Professor at Krakow University, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Morphology Research Group, Birmingham University
Identifying local character in a rural context to inform new development, Louise Thomas
Q&A followed by tea and coffee
Characterising Neighbourhoods, Richard Guise, Context 4D
Ways of capturing local character in new development, Andrew Raven, Director, Savills Urban Design Studio
Toolkits for defining local distinctiveness & introduction to workshop, Louise Thomas, HTVF
Area site visits for observations
Tea and coffee at Kellogg College
Making Recommendations

This event counts as 6 hours of CPD.  If you need help to arrange accommodation in Oxford for this event, please let us know at: