Model design code to be trialled by Councils

Fourteen English local authorities have been selected by The Ministry of Housing to pilot an aspect of its proposed planning reforms.

The government is to develop a new national design code for building works, with local variations built into the system.

A new government organisation called the Office for Place is being set up to oversee the implementation of local standards in all new developments.

These proposed measures are in response to the Living in Beauty report, which was produced in January 2020 by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission.

The idea of the code is that it will ensure future developments are beautiful and fit in with local character. It provides local planning authorities a toolkit of deign principles to consider for new developments, such as street character, building type and facade as well as environmental, heritage and wellbeing factors.

Under this pilot scheme, 14 councils across England are each getting £50.000 to develop their own design codes, setting out design principles for new development in their area. Sensitive to criticism that its wider planning proposals are counter-democratic by imposing greater central control, ministers hope that councils will find a way to get some public input into their design codes.

The selected councils are Colchester Tendring & Essex, Guildford, Herefordshire, Leeds, Mid Devon, Newcastle, Dacorum, Portsmouth, Sefton, Southwark, Hyndburn, North West Leicestershire, Nuneaton & Bedworth, and Buckinghamshire. They will each take part in a six-month testing programme to apply the National Model Design Code (NMDC) in their area.

Christopher Pincher, Housing minister, said: “We should aspire to enhance the beauty of our local areas and pass our cultural heritage onto our successors, enriched not diminished. 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 code”.

“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 the 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”.

Head of the Planning Advisory Service, Anna Rose, said: “The outcomes from the first set of pilots will help to build the capacity and collective learning that we need across the sector. I am looking forward to seeing what councils can achieve with their communities by using this new code”.

Co-chair for the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, Nicholas Boys Smith, said: “The pilots are a very important first step as councils start to grapple again with how they can define visions for development in their areas which are popularly-beautiful, profoundly locally based and will support lives which are happy, healthy and sustainable”.

Chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Victoria Hills, described the trials as a “pragmatic way of identifying problems that may arise in the application of this new code”.

She went on to say “The RTPI has no doubt that only a multi-disciplinary approach – involving planners, architects, developers, ecologists, highways authorities and communities – will lead to effective delivery of quality design outcomes. These pilot programmes should help to identify how these relationships will work in practice. We will keep a close eye on the results”.

“However, what is already clear is that substantial extra investment into the planning system will be needed if planners are to play their part fully, almost 90% of our members have told us that they want to prioritise ‘beauty’ in their work but lack the policy support and resources to do so.

“As part of our submission to the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review, we said that a Design Quality Fund of £81m was needed to support cash strapped local authorities through design training, specialist expertise and design-focused policy.

“These pilot programmes are an encouraging start but it is only through significantly increased funding for local authority planning teams that the governments ambitions for design codes in every council will be realised”.