Design Code Urbed Front Cover Feb 2021
The guidance covers building façades, streetscapes, height and character

Govt consults on national design code

Sarah Townsend

A draft design code has been published that ministers claim will help ensure new developments are “beautiful” and “well designed”.

Manchester-based consultancy Urbed was appointed last August to work with the the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and other departments to draw up the Government’s National Model Design Code, which was issued for consultation on Friday.

It builds on a body of work government has produced on good urban design principles, including the National Design Guide.

The guidance is directed at local authorities and provides them with a baseline standard of quality and practice to take into account when considering development proposals alongside the upcoming planning reforms.

Factors to consider, according to the code, include:

  • the layout of new development, including the street pattern
  • how landscaping should be approached, including the importance of streets being tree lined
  • whether façades of buildings are of sufficiently high quality
  • The environmental performance of place and buildings, to ensure they contribute to net-zero carbon targets
  • That developments should clearly take account of local vernacular and heritage in their architecture and materials

“Design codes can… give developers greater certainty about what may be acceptable when seeking planning permission and can help lead to faster decisions based on whether a proposal complies with a code, which can help to speed up delivery of development,” the document states.

Urbed was founded more than 40 years ago and is based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The multidisciplinary practice works on urban design, planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and sustainability.

Design Code Diagram Urbed Feb 2021

The firm was appointed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to work on the second draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

Vicky Payne, senior consultant, planning and urban design, at Urbed, told Place North West: “Urbed is very excited to have worked with MHCLG to produce national guidance to increase design quality in the UK.

“It’s been a challenging but fascinating project trying to distil the complexity of good design into a methodology that can be applied in all sorts of contexts and locations.”

She added: “The aim was to guide the production of codes that provide strong enough rules to ensure quality and certainty, without stifling flexibility or creativity.

“It’s about getting the fundamentals right – making sure the principles of good design are in place to ensure quality across a range of uses, styles, locations and contexts.”

The design code will be part of the shift towards presumed planning consent in principle if certain design standards are met in areas zoned for renewal – a change detailed in the proposed planning reforms outlined in a white paper last August.

The Government is also consulting on proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework that are to contain some of the proposals in last year’s white paper.

The two consultations are running in tandem and both close on 27 March.

Your Comments

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Ministers are still labouring under the misapprehension that the poor quality of volume built housing is due to planning rather than the developers’ business model.

All that will happen is that because the guidance will hold little weight and be open to interpretation they will simply shoe horn their standard pattern book designs and dire landscaping into slightly more structured layouts.

By House builder cynic

Agree that the business model is the problem, but a perceived inability (or perhaps excuse?) to not refuse permission for developments is part of that business model. Developers have got to know that if they don’t put the right amount of funding and effort in place, it’s going to be a no.

Sad that it’s a bit late for Liverpool. By the time this comes into play, any old rubbish will now be “in keeping”! And height restrictions will mean the city can’t even hide em!!!

By Jeff

Totally agree with the above. House builders budget everything down to the last tap, so you add something to a development, something gets downgraded elsewhere. Development is effectively governed by the bean counters so is it any wonder we get the same thing time and time again.

By MD

I can’t find a link to this draft code, to enable commenting – anyone else?

By Anon

I have mixed feelings on this. One the one hand I welcome it: Most of the new developments in Manchester, over the last 20 years, have been dire. There are flats in the early-mid 2000s boom which look like they need pulling down. Similarly, some of the new ‘high profile’ schemes are an aesthetic disaster. Look at Angel Gardens: It looks like a re-clad local authority tower from the 60s!
On the other hand, this standardised approach could make cities/towns/villages lose their identities to a degree. Having said that, most new build properties are devoid of any character and few pay tribute to the local vernacular.

By Observer

You only get good design from good designers not from codes or negotiation or iteration. The way to drive up design standards is to incentivise developers to appoint top quality design teams

By Tickbox

@Tockbox There is no incentive though because the housing market does not respond to the usual laws of supply and demand. Instead it largely depends on the limited availability and cost of land which incentivises the creation of local monopolies, a restricted supply and lack of choice.

The only way you will get good design is by taking the process of land assembly, master planning and funding of infrastructure out of the hands of private house builders. They will then have to deliver in line with an agreed plan but accept a lower profit margins – which is why nothing will ever change because central government don’t want to intervene to that extent.

By House builder cynic

I think it’s a little late for that, Manchester is already full of eye sores. All the modern developments lack any aesthetic value, so dull, square, repetitive and depressing.Humans used to create stunning architecture that we all cherish today, what we are creating today will never be cherished by anyone, it will be a mess for the future generations to clean up. Manchester doesn’t seem to have a vision for the future, there’s a lot of development but it’s just one big mess.

By Michael

Hello, we have now added in the link. Many thanks, Sarah

By Sarah Townsend

Modern architecture in Manchester knocks spots off every other regional city in the uk and the majority of the capital………fact. Go visit Leeds Liverpool Birmingham Bristol and they are light years behind. There’s a reason that Manchester is so successfull………it’s a great place to live and work and spend your leisure time

By Notagain

Design code could stifle innovation

By Anonymous

Haven’t we been here before ? Recycled ideas from previous Governments that never made it through. This also coming from the same department that now considers permitted development rights for office to resi conversions without the need for planning to be intrinsic to meeting the housing need. Where does that fit into a well designed place and design guide?

By Northern lights