IHBC & partners on Design & the NPPF –update on government ‘getting serious on design’

logosThe IHBC and partners including Civic Voice, Place Alliance and the Urban Design Group, have written to the Secretary of State at England’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) asking government ‘to use the opportunity provided by the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] to more forcefully demonstrate the desire of the Government to see better design everywhere’.

The IHBC and partners write:

We, the Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, Design Network, Institute of Historic Building Conservation, Place Alliance, and Urban Design Group very much welcome the great interest your Ministry has shown in the need for a better designed built environment as demonstrated in the recent MHCLG Design Conference. We have come together to urge you to go even further, and in particular to use the opportunity provided by the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework to more forcefully demonstrate the desire of the Government to see better design everywhere. Whilst the draft NPPF has many positive things to say about the importance of design quality, as currently worded the design paragraphs lack clout. High quality design can all too easily be seen as ‘nice to have’ but ‘easy to ignore’ rather than an essential dimension of good planning and a rightful expectation of communities everywhere.

A continuation of such views would be self-defeating as regards the all important national drive to deliver more housing. This is because poor quality place making and design:

  • Quickly alienates the communities that need to be convinced to accept the new housing
  • Turns the development process into a battle rather than a collaborative social good
  • Gives further competitive advantage to a few very large housebuilders who are able to use their standard products across the country, irrespective of how appropriate they are
  • Ultimately creates sub-standard places which will be with us for generations to come.

We urge the Government to re-consider paragraphs 124 to 131 in the draft revised NPPF are re-draft them in order to leave no room for doubt that the proactive pursuit of good place making and design is a national expectation, and that the Government will be actively supporting local authorities who take such matters seriously. We have submitted detailed suggestions for how this might be achieved as part of the formal consultation process, but highlight here five key elements that might be prioritised:

  1. The pursuit of design quality should begin as a strong strategic aspiration. Suitable high-level design expectations and related delivery processes should be included in the list of strategic policies required from local planning authorities. The NPPF should require quality design at all scales, from individual buildings through to achieving good urban form.
  2. There should be an expectation that proactive site-specific design guidance be provided up front and early for all key development sites or areas undergoing substantial change.
  3. Highlighting the value of design workshops is welcomed, but Government should go further to require that the preparation for major housing developments include one or more workshops to engage key stakeholders (including the community) early and in a positive manner in the development process.
  4. As a minimum, some expectation that independent expert design review should occur for all major and / or locally significant projects, should be included in policy.
  5. The new policy should make explicit reference to Manual for Streets and to Government’s expectation that the guidance contained therein is adopted jointly by highways and planning authorities as the basis for highways design.

Research conducted in 2017 for the Place Alliance and Urban Design Group graphically demonstrated the decimation of urban design expertise within local planning authorities across the country1. Today, half of local planning authorities have no in-house dedicated design capacity at all. Unless Government takes a stronger lead on this issue, this situation is unlikely to change. This would be to condemn the country to another generation of poor quality unsustainable place making, inappropriate residential design, local discord, and ultimately to a failure to meet our housing need.

Signatories:

Academy of Urbanism
Civic Voice
Design Network
Institute of Historic Building Conservation
Place Alliance
Urban Design Group

For more on Design and the NPPF revision see  the IHBC NewsBlog 06/04/2018 and the IHBC NewsBlog 19/05/2018 (IHBC responds to NPPF consultation)

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