Context 172 - June 2022

24 C O N T E X T 1 7 2 : J U N E 2 0 2 2 ROY LEWIS Design codes: intentions and reality The principles and parameters in design guides and codes will raise design quality only if they are properly understood by those responsible for determining planning applications. In June 2021 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published a National Model Design Code (Part 1 The Coding Process and Part 2 Guidance Notes). According to the successor Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) website, the National Model Design Code ‘sets out clear design parameters to help local authorities and communities decide what good quality design looks like in their area’. Prior to that, in 2019, the MHCLG had published a National Design Guide: planning practice guidance for beautiful, enduring and successful places. The National Design Guide sets out 10 characteristics of well-designed places, the first of which is ‘context’ – a concept that will be familiar to readers of this journal. This is reinforced by the second, ‘identity’, which acknowledges the importance of local character, although the lack of specific reference to conservation area character appraisals is disappointing. The document is well illustrated with carefully selected examples of well-designed development, much of which is located in historic places. The National Model Design Code builds on the 10 characteristics, and sets out a seven-step coding process largely based on dividing the area covered by the code into a set of typical ‘area types’. The guidance for the various area types is based on well-established urban design principles, and includes prescriptive detail on such matters as height/width ratios. While the broad-brush approach advocated should be helpful in routine situations, it is unlikely to be sufficient in relation to design proposals that impact on listed buildings and conservation areas, which invariably display unique characteristics and require a tailored approach. The copious illustrations in the National Model Design Code include isometric, axonometric and two-dimensional drawn diagrams. For some, the sheer volume of information could be overwhelming. Local planning authorities (in England) are expected to prepare local design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, which should reflect local character and design preferences. Historic context The design of new development has always been a material planning consideration. In the past there was generally a reasonable amount of design expertise in planning authorities. Many chief planning officers were ‘architectplanners’, the larger authorities mostly had architects’ departments, many of the first phase of conservation officers were architects, and design was traditionally a key theme in most planning courses. However, in the early years New development at Crich, Derbyshire. A design code may well have improved this recent development of ‘anywhere houses’ that display little empathy for the tightly enclosed layout or the traditional stonebuilt character of the historic village. The potential adverse impact on the approach into the village conservation area or local character were not identified as relevant issues in the appeal decision that authorised the development.