The challenges of urban and rural builds

The planning and design input for schemes on urban and rural sites can be vastly different. Because of this, they require a proper understanding of the different contexts within which they sit.

We’ve worked on our fair share of urban and rural sites over the years and know that each presents its own challenges. Urban sites are often dominated by how the proposal will impact on neighbouring uses, whilst rural sites have to consider wider landscape impacts.

At only 34sqm, Kensington Street in Brighton was a tight plot to fit a new three-storey house onto

Nevertheless, for all their differences there is still one important aspect that is critical to both: understanding the planning context and crucial requirements to pass through the planning system.

To help keep you one step ahead, here’s a quick summary of some of the most common challenges you may face on your next build – whether it’s an urban or rural site.

Urban sites

A tight site means close neighbours

As you’d expect, urban sites inevitably mean you’ve got neighbours. The smaller and tighter the site, the closer they are. Whether it’s a residential property or a light industrial warehouse (or both), you’ll have to consider how your proposal might affect your neighbours.

Sometimes the planners will be considering how your scheme may impact an existing sensitive use (like a school) but other times it may be how an existing use (like a delivery yard) may impact your proposed use. Impacts can range from noise, air quality, overlooking and more.


This basement home in Tooting minimised the potential of overlooking by avoiding upper levels

Just as the local planning authority’s job is to anticipate and consider potential conflicts in land uses, our job is to anticipate their concerns and address them before they become an issue.

At Tooting, South London we kept the built form low to eliminate concerns from the planners and neighbours about overdevelopment.

How to bring light into the site

Another common challenge in high density areas is how to bring natural light into a scheme. Terraced or basement properties are particularly susceptible to feeling dark.

This new three storey house at Kensington Street, Brighton had the potential to be dark, so we incorporated light tubes

At Kensington Street, through a clever sectional design and the use of light tubes, we funnelled natural light down to the lower of three levels.

The lightwell at Tooting, South London creates a dramatic and airy feel

And at Tooting, we were acutely aware of the potential for the space to be dark and dingy. So, we incorporated a large sunken lightwell within the site to bring natural light right into bedrooms at the lower level. The end result is a modern but understated, bright home.

Meeting crucial planning requirements

Space standards, designed to protect against sub-standard accommodation, are a crucial planning requirement on urban infill sites. The standards vary from place to place, so it’s critical to check the standards to understand what will be feasible on a site.

Even though we proposed 70sqm of gross new floorspace at Kensington Square, we obtained planning permission first time around, due to a meticulous design approach and very close liaison with the planning officer.

Rural sites

An open site means open views

On rural sites it’s not so much views into the property that’s the challenge, but how the development might interrupt wider views of the wider landscape.

Understanding the landscape sensitivities and identifying important views is absolutely critical from the outset, before design work is progressed too far. That means working collaboratively with a landscape architect and other specialists, such as ecologists and tree consultants. It’s not purely about achieving a sensitive scheme; these technical reports will also be validation requirements when you come to submit your application.

Demonstrating sustainable development

A central theme running through the National Planning Policy Framework is that of achieving sustainable development. And one aspect of sustainable development is locating new development close to public transport and existing services.

Naturally, rural sites find this criteria harder to meet. Sites that are connected to existing villages with public transport routes will inherently be more sustainable.

Mortimer's Farm

Good design is also a key aspect of sustainable development. Our scheme at Mortimer’s Farm repurposed a dilapidated farmstead, and the design of The Denes incorporated various sustainable measures to achieve a new home with a low environmental footprint.

The Denes

Meeting crucial planning requirements

With rural sites, justifying the principle of development is absolutely critical to securing planning consent. As a general rule, planning policies will direct new development towards settlements. Of course, rural sites aren’t always greenfield sites; the best ones we’ve worked on make good use of brownfield sites within the countryside.

But, even with greenfield sites there is always a case to make, once you understand the planning context of your site.

Our in-house planning team can see the bigger picture and will help shape a planning case that deals with restrictive planning policies.

As to which we prefer? It’s hard to say. We love tackling challenges in whatever form they take and however they get our grey matter cells whirring.

If you need some help navigating the challenges of urban or rural builds, get in touch.