The National Planning Policy Framework updates

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The National Planning Policy Framework places great emphasis upon achieving well designed buildings and places. However, good design is subjective – ask a hundred different people about what ‘good design’ means to them and you can expect a hundred different answers.

On 1st October 2019 the Government updated its Planning Practice Guidance on Design, under the heading ‘Design: process and tools’: this now includes a National Design Guide.

The Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) emphasises the importance of retaining good design as the detail of a scheme is developed, stating that ‘Local planning authorities can consider a strategy to maintain the original design intent and quality of significant schemes, such as by encouraging the retention of key design consultants from the planning application team and using design review at appropriate intervals’. It enables design conditions to be imposed at the outline stage, ‘allowing for the details to be submitted for later determination as part of a reserved matters application’ and says that site inspections to verify compliance with plans are important. In addition it emphasises that applications to discharge conditions or amend approved schemes should not undermine the quality of a development.

In terms of design review, the Government says that this needs to be proportionate, but can be appropriate for different sizes of development provided that the projects are significant enough to justify the investment needed. Clear appraisal criteria should be followed which should be ‘representative, diverse and inclusive, drawing upon a range of built environment and other professional expertise’, and the review should also take into account the wider policy context as well as ‘the physical characteristics of the site and its setting’.

The importance of community engagement is emphasised, including holding design workshops.

The guidance also sets out the difference between strategic and non-strategic policies relating to design. Strategic policies broadly set out expectations such as ‘the future character and role of town centres, areas requiring regeneration or suburban areas facing more incremental change’ and design expectations for large sites including masterplanning. Non-strategic policy can be prepared by the Local Authority of neighbourhood groups and considers the more localised detail. The role of local design guides is also covered.

Masterplans are also covered: they should not be misleading ‘by showing inaccurate details’ or ‘significant elements not yet decided upon’. Outline applications can include design principles if these are ‘fundamental to decision making’. Parameter plans can be used to provide more detail but ‘are not a substitute for a clear design vision and masterplan’.

Accompanying the PPG is a newly published National Design Guide. This has been produced to help guide the work of applicants and their design teams, local authority officers and councillors, and local communities and their representatives. It states that it has been prepared ‘in the context of social, economic and environmental change’, which includes changes in technology, demographics and expectations including those relating to lifestyles and how places need to function and adapt.

The National Design Guide sets out ten characteristics of a well designed place. These are as follows:

  • Context (includes relating well to the local and wider context, valuing heritage, local history and culture)
  • Identity (includes responding to existing local character and identity, well designed, high quality, attractive, creating character and identity)
  • Built form (includes dealing with compact forms of development, appropriate building types and forms, destinations)
  • Movement (covers integration of networks of routes for all forms of transport, a clear structure and hierarchy of connected streets, well considered parking, services and utilities infrastructure)
  • Nature (addresses high quality green, open spaces, landscapes and activities, play, water management, rich and varied biodiversity)
    Public Spaces (includes well-located high quality and attractive public spaces, well designed safe spaces, spaces that support social interaction)
  • Uses (covers mixed uses, mixed housing types, sizes and tenures, socially inclusive developments)
  • Homes and Buildings (considers a healthy, comfortable and safe internal and external environment, buildings that are well related to external amenity and public spaces, detail in relation to storage, waste, servicing and utilities)
  • Resources (addresses following the energy hierarchy, selection of materials and construction techniques, maximising resilience)
  • Lifespan (includes well managed and maintained developments, adapting to changing needs and evolving technologies, and a sense of ownership)

It should also be noted that the Government has stated that it intends to publish a National Model Design Code which will set out ‘detailed standards for key elements of successful design’. This is to be subject to consultation in early 2020. Watch this space.

Excellent design underpins everything we do at Pegasus Group. Take a look at some of the projects on our website to see how we have already been taking these principles into account in making beautiful, sustainable places where people wish to live, work, visit and relax. This article was written by Associate, Clare Eggington, to find out more about Pegasus Group and see how we can help please contact us.