History, Heritage and Design Policies

History, Heritage and Design

Key messages:

The design of Shaftesbury’s homes, shops, public buildings and landmarks give our town its character.

The combination of the height of buildings, the shape of roofs, the style of windows, the use of certain materials and even the road surfaces all play a part in creating our distinctive place to live or work.

This section of the Shaftesbury Neighbourhood Plan identifies the design elements in our buildings and the spaces around them that make them special enough to save and conserve. We also set out design guidelines that we would like property companies to meet when planning future housing developments in our town. We want Shaftesbury to remain special and distinguished.

Up until now, Shaftesbury is the only town in North Dorset that does not have its own adopted design guidance. A design guide was drafted for the eastern extension to the town but that document hasn’t been followed.

The Neighbourhood Plan seeks to give clear guidance to the Planning Department of Dorset Council when they receive a planning application in Shaftesbury.

Our intention is to ensure that anyone reading the Neighbourhood Plan understands what residents consider is important to conserve, so that new ideas and development works in harmony with our historical Town Centre and our important conservation areas.

A French architect once said, ‘Architecture is a very dangerous job; if a writer makes a bad book, people don’t read it. But if you make bad architecture, you impose ugliness on a place for 100 years’.

This plan offers concise, nationally accepted standards as guidance to ensure undesirable architectural design and materials do not blight our beautiful town.

History, Heritage and Design Policies

Policies SFDH1 to SFDH7

What do Policies SFDH1 to SFDH7 set out to do?

To preserve and enhance the character and design of our historic town and the different character areas.

To encourage high quality design that ensures development complements and contributes positively to Shaftesbury’s character and engenders a sense of civic pride and social inclusion.

To make sure the natural environment is properly considered in the design process.

Respecting Local Character

The character of, and the issues associated with, each area of the town are described in the sections above, with more detail provided in the 2019 Shaftesbury Design Guidelines. By taking into account what aspects help underpin an area’s character, and opportunities to remove or reduce those elements that weaken the character, we can be sure that Shaftesbury and its constituent parts will have a strong and positive identity.


POLICY SFDH1 – Development will respect and respond to the positive aspects of character associated with the specific area of Shaftesbury where the development is planned, and not repeat (and where possible reduce) the negative issues, as set out in section 5.2.

High quality designs

Whilst there will be an emphasis on preserving and enhancing the historic character of the town within the Conservation Area, for new developments outside the historic areas, there is an opportunity to design in a 21st century character that grasps opportunities for innovation and the need to reduce our impact on the environment and adapt for climate change.

But whether the emphasis is on traditional or modern designs, one thing that should be consistent is the quality and attention to detail, that can make such a difference to how well a new development is integrated into the town. Standardised housing estate designs using national house designs, and shoddy workmanship and materials that weather poorly, are not what we need or want.

  • The Home Quality Mark is an industry standard that looks in detail at the design of new homes, including aspects such as air circulation, insulation and ventilation, energy and water resources, responsible sourcing of materials (including their wider environmental impacts and their durability), practical living arrangements (such as drying space and accessible and adaptable designs), quality assurance and aftercare.

Building for Life is another industry-recognised standard for well-designed homes and neighbourhoods. To be eligible for ‘Built for Life™’ accreditation, developments have to achieve nine of the twelve design requirements, which cover aspects such as:

  •  A locally inspired or otherwise distinctive character based either on contemporary architecture or local traditions in building materials and landscaping.
  •  Good connections (footways and paths) to the surrounding area.
  • Welcoming, well managed and attractive streets and spaces, with low traffic speeds.
  • Easy to find your way around.
  • Uses the existing topography, landscape features (including water courses), wildlife habitats, existing buildings, site orientation and microclimates.
  • Includes adequate external storage space for bins and recycling as well as vehicles and cycles.
  • Personal space (such as private garden areas) are protected and respected.

A number of these principles have been incorporated into the following Neighbourhood Plan policies, so that in meeting these standards, developers may well be able to promote the quality of their developments during sales and marketing activity.

Quick Read

What do these policies mean and why are they important?

These policies encourage developers to adopt good design principles. They need to consider the needs of differently-abled residents, the impact on the environment and the overall appearance of the properties when they work on their plans. New buildings should be green, environmentally-sustainable, use the latest technology and meet the expected environmental building standards. What may appear to be minor aspects of a building project, such as gutters and flues, are just as important as windows and chimneys in adding to the overall appearance and positive impact of the development. Developers should pay attention to these elements. Any item that does not have to be on the front of a building, such as a smart meter, should be hidden away from main view.

– Development should be sustainable, safe, inclusive and accessible in design. New dwellings are encouraged to achieve Building for Life accreditation and a Home Quality Mark rating to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. BREEAM assessments are encouraged for non-residential development

The scale, positioning and orientation of buildings

The height and positioning of new buildings can make a real difference to how a place feels to the person on the street. Important buildings or structures with cultural or historic importance should be integrated into the visual appearance of the town to reinforce a strong ‘sense of place’ or Shaftesbury’s identity. Whilst new or replacement buildings may be taller than typical for that area (to make good use of the building land available), it is important that they don’t overshadow or block views of local landmark buildings that help define the area.

Poorly defined corners, high walls and narrow alleyways can make pedestrian routes and links difficult to find, dank and miserable. There should be regular breaks in the built-up areas to enable views and connections to public rights of way.

Sometimes the character of the area is very much defined by a strong pattern of regular buildings – particularly some of the Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th century suburbs. Where this is the case, the way in which building layouts have been planned, either set back from the road or built against the pavement, should be respected. Development that deviates from this pattern can otherwise jar with and diminish that area’s character.

In new developments, there will be more opportunity to focus on how the layout and orientation of buildings can maximise the potential benefits from solar energy and insulation and create pleasant outdoor spaces (both private gardens and public areas).

Entrances will benefit from being on north or east sides, with gardens to south or west sides, roofs designed for solar panels, and windows with suitable shades to make the most of sunlight without overheating.

There are also likely to be more opportunities to include taller buildings in these areas, to make more efficient use of land, and this is particularly importance in places where there is good access to local facilities and jobs. However bulky and unimaginative designs will not be supported.

POLICY SFDH3 – The scale, positioning and orientation of buildings will:

  • Respect the scale of adjoining development.
  • Allow for views of buildings that are important in the street scene (due to their function or landmark characteristics). 
  • Create a safe and attractive public realm (taking into consideration the microclimates formed and the legibility and surveillance of the main pedestrian routes.)
  • Maximise the potential benefits from sunlight and shading to reduce the consumption of energy in heating and cooling new buildings, unless this would significantly harm local character. 
  • In new areas, seek to create visual interest within a more cohesive character, and consider including some taller buildings in locations where there is very good access to local facilities, provided that this would reinforce and add interest to the area’s character and legibility.

Creating an attractive public realm

Although the way we design buildings impacts on how public spaces feel, there are many other factors that also need to be considered, which we touch on here.

An important consideration is the need to avoid unintended clutter, whilst incorporating those features that make public areas safe, accessible and practical. For example, street lighting should be fixed to buildings to reduce the clutter of lamp poles. Litter bins should be provided adjacent to recreation spaces and at intervals so as to be convenient for use and waste collection. New developments should include Royal Mail letter boxes and community noticeboards unless these exist nearby.

Surfacing materials are also important. Whilst in historic quarters traditional materials should be considered, the surfacing needs to be suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs (and where allowed, bicycles and scooters). Consideration should also be given to the practicality of further works (for example after accessing utilities or installing new street furniture).

Boundary treatments facing the street and public areas should reflect the best examples in Shaftesbury – walls made of greensand stone, ironmongery (wrought iron railings are typical) or hedgerows in semi-rural areas, or a combination of these. Bin stores should be located to be convenient for the intended users, close to the refuse collection points yet screened from the street.

The inclusion of planting areas within the design should also be considered at an early stage, as some elements (such as street trees) will required space, and there may be opportunities to link a series of green corridors together for wildlife and sustainable drainage benefits. Car parking areas should be landscaped with planting.

Standards of workmanship can have the greatest impact on the quality of public spaces. Therefore, it is vital that surface treatments and street furniture are installed with care and attention to detail.

POLICY SFDH4 – A range of open areas and enclosed spaces, including areas designed to encourage play and social interaction, should be incorporated into the design of new places. Pedestrian routes should be convenient, lit, safe and pleasant. They should be designed to cater for all users, including wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Attention should be paid to the inclusion of sufficient planting to enhance biodiversity, provide opportunities for shade and promote clean air (particularly near trafficked areas). Outside of the town centre, soft landscaping should be of equal importance in the overall design.

Street furniture, surface and boundary treatments should be of high quality, designed to endure and easy to maintain. Designs and materials should respect the area’s historic character, where possible reinforcing this through a consistency of approach. The installation of new street furniture should be located so as to avoid clutter, with measures put in place to ensure that superfluous or redundant items of street furniture are removed.

Accommodating vehicles

While this plan places a lot of emphasis in improving opportunities to walk, cycling and for public transport to work, many residents and visitors will continue to rely on their cars for a lot of the trips they make. Electric cars and other low-energy fuels are likely to become more widespread, and with this the need for charging points. And even if the car is less used – many households will still have a car that needs to be parked somewhere.

Communal parking areas can make more efficient use of land, but large expanses of parking are not attractive. More thought will also need to be given as to how users might access vehicle charging points.

Car charging points installed on buildings will need to be close to the parking spaces.

As cars have become larger, parking spaces and garages need to be wider. As a guide, parking spaces need to be 2.8m in width (with slightly greater clearance in the case of parking spaces for disabled people) and garages 3m (internally). Cycle / mobility scooter storage should also be provided, and motorcycle parking also considered.

POLICY SFDH5 – Provision must be made for cars, motorcycles and bicycles in line with the adopted parking standards (and Manual for Streets). Communal car parking areas, if proposed, should be not result in extensive areas of uninterrupted parking, and will need to be landscaped with planting including provision for mature trees. Similarly, continuous areas of uninterrupted car parking in front of buildings should be avoided.

Parking spaces must be of adequate size for the range of vehicle types and users (including disabled drivers). Car charging points should also be clearly shown, to demonstrate sufficient provision will be available for both occupants and visitors.

Building styles and detailing

Building styles and detailing should reflect the intended use and status of the building within the street scene. Not every building can or should be a local ‘landmark’, but they all contribute to the overall character of an area and how it is perceived. Design ideas can be taken from local buildings that clearly contribute to that area’s character.

Consideration should be given to key aspects, such as elevations, symmetrical layout, detailing, use of materials and proportions. But although they may be designed within local traditions or sustainable building credentials in mind, a complete imitation (pastiche) or a broad eclectic mix (from all styles and periods) is not what is needed.

Architectural detailing in new development should typically display elements that balance with those of existing traditional buildings in terms of interest, scale, texture and form. For example, Shaftesbury has a strong tradition of 450mm wide cast iron casements set into timber frames, which generates window widths a little narrower than the national standard sizes.

Windows in new buildings should complement the vertical pattern, dimensions and scale of windows reflected in local architectural detailing. The style and proportions for any new or replacement dwellings and extensions should respect local styles and traditions. Wrought iron work to window box cradles is typical.

Meter boxes, balanced flues and alarm boxes should not be placed on front elevations where they would detract from the character and symmetry of the design. Similarly, satellite dishes should not be placed on street elevations – indeed with high broadband speeds, dishes should no longer be required. Consideration should also be given to supporting local wildlife. For example, roof overhangs with exposed rafters offer the possibility of roosts for birds. Openings to roof spaces where bats can roost can be designed into the plans.

Traditional elements used in new and existing buildings include:

On formal buildings:

  •  Detailing around windows including lintels and sills
  • Quoins and masonry detailing
  • Door surrounds and porches
  • Timber sash windows with small panes
  • Symmetrical façades
  • Windows and doors set back from brick face
  • Stonework at entrances including classical pillars, pediments and porches
  • Decorative iron railings
  • Shallow pitched roofs and defined eaves
  • Decorative mouldings

On informal buildings:

  •  Timber sash or casement windows with small panes
  • Wide door frames with canopy porches
  • Asymmetrical facades
  • Windows set closer to the wall face
  • Steeper pitched roofs, possibly with accommodation in the roof with modest dormer windows – casements 450mm wide, dormer roofs with minimal fascias detailed to a avoid heavy appearance.

POLICY SFDH6 – Development should be designed with attention to architectural quality and detailing, reflecting the level of detail typically found in traditional buildings of similar form and function.

As a general principle, proposed building façades should be designed to indicate the importance of each storey through a combination of composition of building elements. There may be increased height for the most prominent floor and the level of architectural detailing used. The scale and design of entrances should be appropriate to the function – commercial properties will be grander in design than individual residential properties.

The design and access statement (if required) should clearly explain the design rational and how local building traditions and/or sustainability benefits have influenced the design. Windows (including their positioning within their reveals), doors, eaves and ridgelines (including associated gutters and flashing), chimneys and flues should be clearly detailed in the submitted plan and elevations. Where alarm boxes, meter boxes, flues and other paraphernalia are intended to be installed, these should be shown clearly on the plans and care taken to ensure that these do not unduly detract from the building’s appearance.

Building materials

Materials proposed for use in new development and building extensions should match or be guided by those used in the existing buildings, taking into account how these vary subtly by street.

A typical materials palette in the Shaftesbury area includes:

  • Greensand stone – ‘prepared’ before use either as ashlar, squared rubble, coursed rubble or random rubble. Mortar joints need to be kept under 10mm using a white sand and lime to provide a satisfactory appearance.
  • Bricks matching those made by the Motcombe brick works (which are of a warmer multi-colour than the stark orange appearance of Gillingham bricks).
  • Timber painted windows.
  • Slate or plain tiles, or pantiles for single storey buildings.

It goes without saying that alterations to Listed Buildings must respect its character and preserve its features of special architectural or historic interest. Extensions may match or contrast subject depending on the character of the building being extended, its relationship (in form and function) to the extension and how important it is to be able distinguish the original building from more recent changes.

Even where developments may not be Listed, the historic character of Victorian, Edwardian, or 1930s buildings have merits which should be respected. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the character of the original building is not needlessly harmed. Replacing slate roofs with modern concrete tiles tends to destroy the character and should be avoided. Low quality UPVC front doors with poor proportion and detailing should be avoided.

Care should be taken in the preparation and use of the materials, as details such as the preparation of the stones and the mortar joints can dramatically alter a building’s appearance. Consideration should also be given to how the material may weather – for example, rendered walls without a substantial roof overhang deteriorate quickly in Shaftesbury’s micro-climate.

Timber sash windows, that may have lasted over 100 years, may eventually be beyond economic repair, but their replacement with (for example) low maintenance UPVC windows, can still be well designed so that this building retains the character created by the original sash windows.

POLICY SFDH7 – Development should use materials that celebrate the area’s heritage, are high quality, are appropriate to the building and its setting, and are durable and, where possible, local or recycled.



Policy SFDH8

What does Policy SFDH8 set out to do?

To ensure that thorough archaeological assessments are undertaken for developments taking place on any sites of potential historic interest and, where possible, we preserve Shaftesbury’s unique and fascinating past that lies hidden beneath our houses, gardens, shops and streets.

History is important for our sense of local community as well as tourism. Shaftesbury has more Scheduled Ancient Monuments (6) than any other town in North Dorset, including the ruined Abbey, a nationally significant Royal nunnery founded in Saxon times by Alfred the Great.

But much still remains to be discovered, including where buildings stood, and where underground tunnels may lie. Every development proposal involving surface or subsurface works could put at risk archaeological assets, but, properly managed, this is an opportunity to find out more.

Of 154 respondents, 145 agreed that archaeological assessments should be made for developments on sites of potential historic interest, so that we can preserve and learn more about Shaftesbury’s history.


POLICY SFDH8 – Archaeological assessment shall be required for sites where historic remains may be present, prior to the determination of a planning application, if the development would disturb or prevent future access to such remains.

Appropriate procedures will be required to ensure preservation of the remains in place or the recording of the find prior to development. Proposals to sensitively manage archaeological finds for education (including as a visitor/ tourist attraction) will be supported.

Shaftesbury is rich in historic sites. They form part of the town’s distinctiveness. Our six Scheduled Ancient Monuments are protected in law. They are:

  •  Castle Hill mound
  • St John’s Church (Bury Litton)
  • 3 Park Walk – Abbey ruins
  • Fishponds
  • Gold Hill – Abbey precinct wall
  • Castle Green

With over 1,000 years of settlement there may be archaeological riches that we do not know about under our town. That’s why we believe it is important to highlight the need to preserve elements of our, as yet undiscovered, past.

The Historic Towns Survey concludes that there is much still to learn about the origins of Shaftesbury and how it developed. We still don’t know how the town was planned and we don’t understand the full impact of the Abbey and its later dissolution.

The Abbey’s SAVED project has been trying to get answers to some of the questions that remain. They have been using equipment that send radar pulses down into the ground to see whether they can identify buildings, structures or street patterns below the surface. This project continues.

Historians believe that there is further research to undertake into the influence of the market (and cattle market) and local industries in the medieval period and in the centuries that followed.

The survival of pits, buildings, boundaries and other features, particularly in back plot areas behind town centre buildings, has the potential to reveal more about the economy, diet, craft industry and other aspects of life in the centre of historic Shaftesbury, according to the Historic Towns Survey.

There are some well-established procedures that developers must follow when their works uncover items of potential historic interest. Not all planners and project managers may be aware of Shaftesbury’s significant Saxon and Medieval heritage, including what is believed to be a network of underground tunnels.

This policy makes sure that there is an understanding of the potential for archaeological finds.

Policy SFDH9

What does Policy SFDH9 set out to do?

To ensure locally important historic buildings are given proper consideration in how development is planned and how views are considered.

Of 141 respondents, 120 agreed that we have identified the buildings that are locally important and that we should protect (i.e. buildings not already covered by official Grade I or Grade II listings).


POLICY SFDH9 – Support will be given wherever practicable to the protection and enhancement of the locally important historic buildings identified in this plan.

There are 275 listed buildings within the Neighbourhood Plan area.

A locally-listed heritage asset is a building, structure or designed space that is deemed to be of local architectural or historic interest and is included on the local heritage list drawn up by Dorset Council.

There is no such list as yet for Shaftesbury. It is a local designation and completely separate from national listing (which is undertaken by Historic England on the government’s behalf).

Local listing does not affect the requirements for planning permission. However, by identifying locally important historic buildings, it is more likely that any impacts on that building or its setting will be more carefully considered because of their local importance.

It is also possible to identify buildings of local importance and these can be added to a ‘local listed’ held by Dorset Council.  This doesn’t offer the powerful protection of being on the National Heritage List but does mean that their local importance will be considered in planning decisions.

Having reviewed the Historic Town Survey, which identifies many ‘key buildings’, and working with Shaftesbury Civic Society, we have identified 40 buildings that would merit local listing.


For maps and more information please click here to view the full Neighbourhood Plan.