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Great Dunmow Town Design Statement - Design guidance for enhancing and protecting the character of Dunmow.

An Overview: The Character of Great Dunmow and Design Issues

The Centre and residential areas

Dunmow is a linear town with relatively narrow thoroughfare lined with building creating a strong sense of enclosure through much of the centre. The market place consists of a slight widening of this channel and Dunmow has no formal space such as is found in Saffron Walden for instance. This pattern was very common in medieval England and many market towns across the country conform to it in one way or another.

The architecture of Dunmow is with one or two exceptions not formal or in any way grand but is modest and domestic in character. The buildings are at most three stories high but these are found next to two storey building so that the sense of enclosure is nowhere overwhelming.  Nevertheless the sense of enclosure in the High Street and Market Place is strong with the gentle curve of the roads closing views at either end. Only glimpses of the wider landscape are possible.

The Essex vernacular is one of timber framed building rendered with steep tiled roofs. This is very apparent in Dunmow but the overall style of architecture is varied with a range of styles and materials. The character thus derives from the layout, scale and the diversity of style. Despite this it is a strong character easily recognisable and distinctive. It also in part comes from the small details of the buildings and spaces. Finally it derives from the diversity and vitality of the activity without which the town would be sterile and disappointing. It is a living town and no museum piece.

Predictably and inevitably the newer residential extensions to the town conform to almost none of the above characteristics. Purely residential in character they comprise fairly typical estates designed around the maximum use and penetration of the car. Low density on the whole they nevertheless are laid out with the express intention of maximising the number of plots. This approach which is the standard offer of the volume house builders produces a typical appearance with a series of cul de sacs linked by standard width roads; semi detached or detached houses with small front gardens or open areas and driveways. Green space is limited in extent and greenery is provided by private gardens. The estates are wholly residential in character there being no commercial or retail activity. The style of the houses varies according to the style of the period in which they were built with variations in materials, brick or render, different types of roofing tile and external decoration.

More recently with the increasing emphasis on using brown field land and previously used sites the style of newer residential buildings has changed with three storey blocks and tightly packed courts being used. The style has also changed with a stronger emphasis on ‘vernacular’ type materials the use of render and chimneys to replicate the Essex style. In all situations a key challenge is to accommodate the car and it is this that does so much to determine the appearance of developments.

Other areas and public buildings

Dunmow is of course a town and generates a great deal of activity commercial, public as well as residential. Much of the commercial activity is now located on the industrial estates – the Flitch, Ongar Road, Station Road, Hoblongs and Chelmsford Road. These comprise a series of sheds larger or smaller with a single spine road and are for most of the time highly congested with cars and delivery vehicles. The entrances to the estates make no attempt to create a sense of arrival or to contribute to the street scene. Internally there are few amenity areas or green space and the buildings are universally modest in design.

The major retail space outside the town centre is the Tesco store on Stortford Road which occupies an extensive site with a petrol station and large car parking area. It has no pretensions to style and is simply a large shed, about to be made larger. The site is well screened from the main road by trees and a bund but is overlooked by houses on the Woodlands Park estate.

There are a number of public buildings in Dunmow outside the centre including the schools and the community hall, the Foakes Hall. The Helen Romanes School occupies a large site along with a sports centre off Beaumont Hill. The main building is modern in style and contributes nothing to the character of the area detracting somewhat from the cottages that front it. The new primary school has been designed with energy conservation in mind and as a series of ‘pavilions’ It sits above the Stortford Road and plays little or no part in the street scene. The tall fence and entrance way being the dominant impression. The dense planting to the frontage will in time further reduce the impact.

The setting

The landscape setting of Dunmow is not spectacular but is nevertheless a typical of the rolling agricultural landscape of NW Essex with stands of mature trees and dominated by long vista from the few high points. The Chelmer whilst being mostly a modest not to say retiring river contributes a strong landscape edge by virtue of it’s openness due in large part to the flood plain.

The town lies on a slight rise so that the approach from the south and particularly from the north is up a slight hill creating a sense of arrival and anticipation. The edge of the built up area is more or less strong on all sides but especially so on the north where the relationship between the town and the open country is very distinctive and immediate. Views from Beaumont Hill north east extend over open fields to a tree fringed horizon; views to the east are terminated by dense and mature woodland. This interconnection between landscape and the urban area is one of the most distinctive features of the town. 

To the North West the landscape is higher and more densely wooded and diverse merging into the former parkland of Little Easton. Unfortunately this sector has been eroded by the A120 which cuts Dunmow off from the Canfields and creates a noise blanket across the south east sector of the town and now by the Woodlands Park estate and it’s ‘by-pas’ which intrudes into the landscape and has bisected and partially destroyed an ancient woodland.
The Chelmer Valley as it approaches the town is purely agricultural but south of Church End is occupied to a large extent by the town’s recreation area. The edge of the town to the north is distinct. The tower of the church is a key feature in the landscape.

South of Church End the Chelmer valley is open and used for recreation on the west with open fields running up a distinct slope to the housing in St Edmunds Lane. The recreation area is maintained by the Town Council and is for the most part very well used for both walking and more formal recreation. The landscape is not outstanding and the planting is not formal or planned. The river itself is indistinct and to a large extent inaccessible but with eroding banks and containing debris. The landscape structure does not reflect or reinforce the river valley. Further south the valley becomes agricultural once again with shallow slopes leading south west in an attractive and well treed section. Beyond the Braintree Road the valley enters more open countryside.

The B1256, the former A120 that follows the old railway line forms a very distinct south west boundary. Lying below the built up area, it is bordered by dense and mature hedges which positively limit its visual and to an extent noise impact. A footbridge links New Street to the valley to the west. To the east of this are the edge of the Flitch Industrial estate and the Lukins Drive estate is distinct and a shallow depression separates the B 1256 from Olives Wood which occupies rising ground. More dense and mature or ancient woodland then stretches North West. South of Olives wood there is a stretch of agricultural land and semi formal woodland that separates it from the A 120 and the Ongar Road. The A120 constitutes a major barrier and a source of intense and continuous noise almost 100 meters deep despite being in a cutting. A so called amenity area has been created to the south west and has a fringe of struggling tree planting that does as yet nothing to disguise or enhance it.

This belt of woodlandto the south of the B1256 is of extremely high quality ecologically and visually and is designated as of nature Conservation Importance. It provides a setting for the Flitch Way which meanders through it and is well used by walkers and locals for informal recreation. To such an extent that the condition of Olives Wood and some of the damaging activity such as motorcycling gives cause for concern.

To the east of St Edmunds lane is yet another strong and abrupt boundary with agricultural land rising gently to dense and mature woodland that comprises a prominent landscape feature. To the north, beyond the terrace of housing the approach from Stebbing gives a very open vista over gently sloping fields to the woodland surrounding the Church and to the fringe of woodland that traces the Chelmer.

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