Government places greater emphasis on beauty in new planning rules

The government's proposed changes include updates to the National Planning Policy Framework and a new national design code.
A blueprint for a house.
The new National Model Design Code will provide a checklist of design principles for new developments. Credit: Pixabay

The government has proposed changes to the national planning system to ensure that all new developments are ‘beautiful’ and well-designed.

The government has outlined changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to place greater emphasis on beauty and place-making, and ensure that all new streets are lined with trees.

It has also published a draft national design code outlining design principles for new developments, while local councils will be invited to set up their own design codes.

The announcements come in response to last year’s report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC), which was established to advise how to promote high-quality design in new homes and neighbourhoods.

The housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We should aspire to pass on our heritage to our successors, not depleted but enhanced. In order to do that, we need to bring about a profound and lasting change in the buildings that we build, which is one of the reasons we are placing a greater emphasis on locally popular design, quality and access to nature, through our national planning policies and introducing the National Model Design Codes.

“These will enable local people to set the rules for what developments in their area should look like, ensuring that they reflect and enhance their surroundings and preserve our local character and identity.

“Instead of developers forcing plans on locals, they will need to adapt to proposals from local people, ensuring that current and new residents alike will benefit from beautiful homes in well-designed neighbourhoods.”

The new National Model Design Code provides a checklist of design standards that new developments will be expected to meet, such as street character, building type, façade, as well as requirements to address wellbeing and environmental impact.

Councils will be invited to use this as a foundation of their own unique design codes that embrace the history and culture of their local area.

To support councils in this aim, a new ‘Office for Place’ will be created within the next year to pioneer design and beauty in the planning system.

Nicholas Boys Smith, co-author of the BBBBC report, will chair the board of an interim Office for Place which will decide what form the organisation should take, considering responses to the government’s recent planning reform consultation.

The interim body will also pilot the new National Model Design Code with 20 councils this year. Expressions of interest are now open for the first 10 councils to test the new code with participants to receive a share of an initial £500,000.

Boys Smith said: “I am delighted that the government is implementing so many of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission’s findings and would like to thank them for their work to undertake this.

“I am honoured to be asked to chair the transition board of the Interim Office for Place and look forward to our work to help deliver new places and manage existing places to be beautiful, popular, healthy and sustainable.”

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, welcomed the announcement, saying that she was ‘delighted’ that the government has pledged to strengthen the NPPF to prioritise quality design.

Hills commented: “It has never been more important, in the wake of the pandemic, that communities have a say on how their local area looks.

“Planners and the planning system must play an active role in driving up design quality in all areas of England and we look forward to making an ongoing contribution to this work in advance of the forthcoming Planning Bill.”

This past week the government also relaunched the Community Housing Fund, making £4 million available to community land trusts (CLTs) to help them prepare bids for its new £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme.

Meanwhile, funding for communities to nominate local heritage sites for inclusion in their local council’s heritage list has been doubled to £1.5 million. The new funding will allow 22 areas to be involved in the pilot instead of the 10 originally announced.

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