The government has published a full draft of the national design code, which it hopes will ensure all new developments in the UK are “beautiful and well-designed”.
The code provides a checklist of design principles to be taking into consideration in the planning and development of new buildings, such as street character, building type, and wellbeing.
The publication of the code is a response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission report, which was set out at the beginning of 2020.
The new measures mean the word ‘beauty’ will be specifically included in planning rules for the first time since the system was created in 1947.
Unveiling the code, 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.”
‘Refuse what they find ugly’
Nicholas Boys Smith, chair of the Design Body Steering Group, said: “There is no fundamental reason that prevents the creation of streets and squares, homes as places where we can lead happy, healthy, and connected lives.
“In these places, we can know more of our neighbours and be more joyful as we go about our daily lives. As a society we have not done this, and we are paying the consequences.
“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.
“Our ultimate purpose will be to make it easier for neighbourhood communities to ask for what they find beautiful and to refuse what they find ugly.”
Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: “As a member of the government’s Design Body Steering Group, I welcome MHCLG’s commitment to good quality design.
“The RTPI has long called for design to be an integral part of the planning process. A survey in 2020 revealed that 88% of our members wanted greater powers to reject poor design and lacked the capacity and resources to do so.
“I am therefore delighted that the government has listened and pledged to not only strengthen the National Planning Policy Framework to empower local planning authorities to prioritise design and drive up quality, but has also committed to inject much-needed funding in this area.
“I am also pleased that communities will be at the heart of this process. 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.”
An interim Office for Place will be established in the department immediately, with a transition board chaired by Nicholas Boys Smith, who will be tasked with considering what form the organisation should take.
The team will this year be piloting the National Model Design Code with 20 communities and empowering local authorities to demand beauty, design quality, and place-making through training on the principles outlined in the code.
Expressions of interest are now open for the first 10 councils to sign up, with each set to receive a share of an initial £500,000.
The proposals are now out for consultation for a period of eight weeks.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “Local housebuilders bring forward high-quality and bespoke homes in places where people want to live. They naturally sit at the heart of plans to improve the beauty, quality, and design of our homes.
“However, we must not compromise on consumer choice nor the proliferation of the self- and custom-build sector, which offers everyone the chance to design and build their own homes.”
Berry continued: “Local house builders have faced a difficult year, and whilst policy agendas on beauty and environmental provisions are important, the government must do more to remove the structural barriers that local housebuilders are currently facing.
“This should include investing in local authority planning departments so that they can make decisions more quickly and get Britain building.
“I encourage the government to accept the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s recommendation for VAT to be cut to 5% on home improvement works.
“As the Commission reports, cutting VAT will stimulate the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) market, creating jobs and an economic boost for each community across the country. It will also improve the state of repair of our homes, and hence their beauty.”
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