AONB using nature’s colours to help buildings blend into Suffolk’s best landscapes
The team at the region’s AONBs wants to encourage development in harmony with our finest countryside, and has commissioned a colour guide based on the hues and tones of the area.
The devil may have all the best tunes, but says Jem Waygood, “nature always has the best colour combinations”.
Mr Waygood is a consultant who has dedicated his working life to advising architects and planners on appropriate colour schemes for their housing developments and buildings.
Recently, his work has brought him to Suffolk and a project to create a colour guide for developers who are planning to build in or around the Suffolk Coasts & Heaths and Dedham Vale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The result is a comprehensive and fascinating document of colour palettes picking up on the multitude of natural hues found across the different habitat types within these designated areas; the earthy ochres of Suffolk’s sand dunes and shingle ridges; the camouflage browns and dark greens of our forests and heaths; the soil tones and verdant greens that typify the county’s valley meadowland.
The colours found in the built environment of Suffolk’s villages and towns are also included, such as the terracotta of brick and tile; the sky-blue of seaside cottages, alongside our very own Suffolk pink.
Advice is also given on what colours work best in combination, so if a particular colour is chosen for the walls of a building, a complementary tone for the downpipes, guttering and window frames can be easily selected.
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With a wave of housing development expected in the coming years, the team at the AONB hope the guide will be picked up by landowners, property owners, developers, agents, architects and landscape architects, to encourage sympathetic development that supports conservation and blends into these special landscapes. They want to encourage inspiring developments that are bespoke to the area rather than bog standard buildings or new properties that stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
It is an issue that is exercising AONBs across the country and Mr Waygood, who lives in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, has produced similar colour guides for the Malvern Hills AONB which fords Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and the High Weald AONB across the south east.
“In the UK we are blessed with an extraordinary range of landscape types caused by the way the geology of the country has developed over time - AONBs are protected because of their regional significance and there’s a danger they will become homogenised,” he said.
“We like to celebrate regional accents and food but rarely is this translated through into building types. I try and identify what is particular and special about the area and work with the local palette to produce options for development to encourage development that is grounded in the location rather that an imposition on it. It’s about working with the local distinctiveness rather than obliterating it.”
Mr Waygood is a member of the International Colour Association (AIC) and says this way of thinking about the colour of dwellings and how they fit into the local landscape is much more common in countries like France and Italy. The UK has some catching up to do, he says.
“People make decisions about colour all the time but a lot of these decisions are taken in isolation and only guided by the limited colour range that is available.
“I try to understand what the background colour is and examine the indigenous colour palette and tones and then introduce colours that harmonise and are balanced with the local landscape.”
Over at the AONB offices in Melton, planning officer Beverley McClean is excited about the new colour guide and feels the advice it contains won’t just help to conserve the special look and feel of Suffolk’s treasured countryside. It may also smooth the planning process for developers working to get their plans approved.
Ms McClean said: “The strength of the colour guide is that it is embedded in the different landscape character types across the AONB - that’s where the nuances come in, where there are different subtle colour ranges in different areas.
“These are the top landscapes we are talking about. You can’t unsee a building that is wrong in these locations - if you just get the colour wrong, it’s always going to be wrong and stand out. It’s just not going to work.”
McClean says the right colours need not be used across the entirety of a development and that the use of appropriate tones on the “front row of housing” or on “the edge of settlements” could help them blend into the landscape better.
She added: “Getting the colour scheme right could really make the difference between a scheme working and not working - you are delivering on national planning policy for quality design that respects the environment and local plan policy that seeks to do that as well. I would have thought that architects would be keen to explore the use of this.
“This isn’t a panacea for all developments - some proposed schemes are too big for their location - but it could be the difference that makes a scheme acceptable to the local community.”
Beyond encouraging the best development for the region, Mr Waygood has one more ambition for his work.
“I hope that in the process of going through the guide, people look again at the area and see that they live in a fantastic place,” he said.
“You can be so familiar with an area you stop noticing the amazing parts of it. Because I come from outside, I’m usually staggered by how wonderful the elements are in the places I visit.
“It could be a piece of lichen on a branch or a pebble on a beach - nature always has the best colour combinations.”
n Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB is holding a planning event on January 25th 2019 at the Waterfront building at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich. Called Planning in a Designated Landscape: Guides, Rules & Tools - the event features series of talks on planning policy, tranquillity, and the use of colour in design.
See www.suffolkcoastandheaths.org for details