Building Beautiful Places 'must be locally led'

By Dominic Ellis
As UK vision for building beautiful places is set out, LGA urges decisions to be locally led

The Building Beautiful Places plan unveiled by the UK Government will mean quality design will be "paramount" with local communities put at the heart of decision-making to help shape their towns and cities.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is being amended so residents and planners will find it easier to embrace practical aesthetic design while rejecting the ugly, unsustainable or poor quality.

The changes set an expectation that all councils should develop a local design code - an illustrated design guide that sets the standard for a local area - with input from local people.

The process, outlined in the NMDC, demonstrates how and when local communities can be involved in developing a design code, using digital tools and social media, as well as face-to-face workshops, roundtables and exhibitions.

With an increasingly digitised planning system, local people will also be able to better navigate and access the planning process with online map-based plans – allowing people to visualise plans for development and participate more fully in the planning system. Two new web apps recently launched to help homeowners improve and extend their homes.

The changes are designed to promote community spirit, improve physical and mental wellbeing and help the environment. The government announced:

The National Model Design Code - a toolkit to enable every council and community to create their own local design requirement. Guidance is provided across all aspects of new development including tree-lined streets, sustainable drainage and design to support walking and cycling.

Updated planning framework published which will place greater emphasis on beauty, place-making, the environment, sustainable development and underlines the importance of local design codes.

The Office for Place which will drive up design standards, testing and piloting the National Model Design Code with more than 20 local councils and communities.

The Advisory Board, made up of industry experts and chaired by Nicholas Boys Smith, which will  advise on the work of the Office for Place and options for a potential independent body.

Greater emphasis than ever before will now be placed on quality and design in the planning system. Local communities will be fully involved in how they want new developments to look and feel, with a much greater emphasis on environmental sustainability.

The changes to the NPPF set an expectation that good quality design should be approved, while poor quality should be rejected and includes an environmental commitment to ensure that all streets are lined with trees.

These measures mean the word “beauty” will be specifically included in planning rules for the first time since the system was created in 1947 – echoing an era when a greater emphasis was placed on delivering attractive buildings for people that installed a sense of local pride.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said the Government’s vision is for a planning system that make beautiful, sustainable and life-enhancing design a necessity, rather than a luxury.

"Our revised NPPF will ensure that communities are more meaningfully engaged in how new development happens, that local authorities are given greater confidence in turning down schemes which do not meet locally set standards.

"This is about putting communities – not developers – in the driving seat to ensure good quality design is the norm, and the return to a sense of stewardship – to building greener, enduringly popular homes and places that stand the test of time in every sense."

Nicholas Boys Smith, Chair of the Advisory Board for the Office for Place, said the quality achieved remains "stubbornly inconsistent". "We must do better, more often for the benefit of communities, to contribute to the economic success of our towns and cities and to look after our planet," he said.

Cllr David Renard, Housing Spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said councils have constantly delivered throughout the pandemic and are key to helping the Government build back locally as we all recover from it.

This includes delivering the high-quality affordable housing we desperately need, built in the right places and supported by the right infrastructure. He said the LGA also supported innovative design to achieve climate-friendly homes and to improve the quality of homes and places.

“Design tools can be helpful, but decisions about the design of planning need to be locally-led and are best made by local councils together with their communities. As the Government’s National Design Guide advises, any specific details and measurable criteria for good design is most appropriately set out at a local level.

"The requirement for councils to have a local design code will also require additional resources and skills, so it will be important that councils are fully funded and supported to provide the extra capacity needed. We would also like to see the Office for Place body include local government representation, so it can benefit from the expertise and knowledge from a local level.”

Phillip Box, Public Affairs & Policy Officer at UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said true sustainability and beauty are clearly intertwined, and this relationship should be central to our discussions around achieving a more sustainable built environment.

"When the two principals work together, they create spaces that have value, both for nature and for the people that live there," he said, adding it welcomed changes announced to the new National Model Design Code and the general direction of travel evident in the changes to the NPPF.

"However, it is disappointing to see that suggestions to go further, in order to comprehensively align the NPPF with achieving our national net zero target, delivering climate adaptation and biodiversity recovery through development, were not taken forward."

Yesterday it opened applications to apply for the Task Group which will help shape the content of the first deliverable of the Resilience and Nature Based Solutions programme: the measuring and reporting of physical risk. 

  • More than half (55%) of the UK population don’t know what a smart city is, despite global spend reaching $124 billion in 2020 and at least 18 cities across the UK already having rolled out smart technology, according to a report by Milestone Systems.

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