09 Feb 2021

Planning consultation opens for a stronger focus on beauty in national planning policy

A raft of changes to the to the planning system have been proposed in recent months. Following on closely from previous consultations on the planning for the future white paper and more short-term proposals in changes to the current planning system, the government has just launched proposed amendments to consolidate a new focus on incorporating beauty and good design. 

The consultation is open until 27 March on revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and National Model Design Code. The proposals for the NPPF relate largely to text amendments to implement policy changes in response to the Building Better Building Beautiful "Living with Beauty" report. The word ‘beauty’ has attracted a fair amount of controversy until now, however the aim of the changes are clear - to make beauty a strategic theme in the NPPF. Many references to ‘good design’ have been replaced with ‘good design and beautiful places’. New streets must now be tree lined and development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance.

There are also amendments to strengthen up environmental and climate change policies including related to flooding. There is also a real tightening up the wording around the use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights (PDR), limiting them to the smallest geographical areas possible.  The timing of this seems no coincidence with the closing of the consultation at the end of January on the proposed extension of PDR to allow conversion to residential from the new Use Class E (CIH’s consultation submission can be found here).

The NPPF suggested amendments also include a clarification of wording to explain that where major development involving the provision of housing is proposed, at least 10 per cent of the total number of homes should be available for affordable home ownership. This is to address confusion as to whether the 10 percent requirement applies to all units, or the affordable housing contribution. The timescale for strategic policies has also been amended, with larger-scale developments or new settlements to be considered in policies with a 30 year vision, as opposed to the 15 year horizon.

Views are also sought on the National Model Design Code and supporting guidance notes, specifically on the content of the guidance, its application and use, and the approach to community engagement. The intention of the National Model Design Code is to provide illustrated detail on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design. The objective is to provide a toolkit and checklist of good design principles to be considered such as street character, building type and façade as well as environmental impact and wellbeing factors. There is a welcome inclusion in the guidance notes under ‘use’ that there should be an “integrated mix of housing tenures and types to suit people at all stages of life” and “well-integrated housing and other facilities that are designed to be tenure neutral and socially inclusive”.

The code will be piloted amongst 20 communities, with expressions of interest already open for the first 10 councils. A new ‘Office for Place’ is to be created within the next year with the intention to pioneer design and beauty within the planning system.  An interim Office of Place will be established within MHCLG in the meantime with a transition board chaired by Nicholas Boys Smith who co-led the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

If you would like to make any comments on the consultation to help with preparation of the response from CIH, please send these to  Hannah.keilloh@CIH.org by Monday 8 March 2021.