Functional Context

This examines the existing activities and functions in the vicinity of the site. The functional context includes the existing pattern of uses, economic development initiatives, health facilities, education facilities, community facilities, public art, open spaces, bio-diversity structure, landscape character, areas liable to flood, heritage assets and movement (vehicular, public transport and pedestrian flows).

Functional context uses fill space, and it is the nature of this relationship that largely determines the vitality and health of urban areas. Whereas planning policy over the last 50 years has had the effect of increasing the separation of functions, our present-day sustainability objectives require us to draw them together.

The typical historic town once supported a wide variety of activities within buildings, streets and public spaces – and it was these functions that attracted people to live in urban dwellings rather than in the countryside. The nature of towns in Essex has evolved markedly and continues to do so, requiring (though not always receiving) continuous monitoring and attentive management.

This guide points to the reinvention of the sustainable urban form as a unit of liveability. Propagating existing areas with new, necessary and in-demand uses and spaces through sensitive urban planning, will improve economic and social conditions – and repair some of the damage done in the past.

Most of the development scenarios described in this design guidance require new development to bring forward a mixture of uses, but the Context Appraisal process recognises that variety of use cannot be achieved or sustained simply by prescription.

Active Public spaces support the creation of vibrant urban areas through the creation of destinations to give spaces purpose and focus when considered and designed within the context of a place. Active Public spaces allow interest within route networks and encourage users to be more active by having foci within a development.                   

Understanding the current provision and disposition of uses within buildings and space is an essential prerequisite of planning for their improvement. A Context Appraisal therefore needs to include an audit of uses for the unit of sustainability relevant to the site – i.e. an Urban Centre, Neighbourhood etc.                                                       

The survey should identify specific uses rather than just Use Classes (see the Town and Country Planning Act Use Classes Order 2005) and can be presented as a map with a catalogued index. At least two things should become apparent upon completion of this record:

  • It should be possible to identify the commercial ‘centres of gravity’ within the surroundings and make reasonable assumptions about (a) the intensity of the movement network in proximity to those uses and (b) the routes people take to get there. This will help to inform the layout of the site by suggesting the most frequent destinations for future residents and visitors.
  • It should provide evidence as to what facilities exist and clues to what is missing. For instance, it will show the current provision of green space, sports fields and playgrounds – making it possible either to plan for new provision or to counter claims of deficiency.

Page updated: 7/02/2018

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