Planning process should ‘refuse ugliness’, says report

“Beautiful” schemes should be fast-tracked through the planning process, under proposals contained in a Government-commissioned report that aims to encourage better building across the UK.

The report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, also recommends changes to national planning regulations to change the way councils produce local plans, to encourage them to take greater account of design elements into the process of determining schemes at an earlier stage.

The commission is an independent body chaired by Create Streets co-founder Nicholas Boys Smith with advisors including representatives from the Royal Institute of British Architects, Design Council, housebuilder Crest Nicholson, AHHM architects and the Prince’s Foundation.

In its second report to the Government, the commission outlined its policy proposals intended to create a “level playing field” in terms of quality of building design, including requesting changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.

“The framework sets out general aspirations to create attractive places, but it does not effectively require that those aspirations be met. Critically the NPPF needs to be tightened so that ugliness is excluded,” the report noted.

“The NPPF should be defining a ‘duty of visual enhancement’. In general, policies relating to overall design, infrastructure and placemaking must be more prescriptive. It is regrettable, but true, that planners and local governments have accepted ways of building that dehumanise the places where they occur.”

The Government should create a Cabinet role responsible for ensuring developments achieve the right design standards, while local authorities should appoint a ‘chief placemaker’ at senior level.

Place North West reported at the Conservative Party Conference last September that commission chair Boys-Smith had said the planning system had a lack of clarity and certainty for developers and others.

Former prime minister Theresa May established the commission while in office as a way of improving the planning process to tackle the housing crisis. At the Chartered Institute of Housing conference last June, May said she wanted to ensure that housing doesn’t mean “homes that people have to live in, but homes they want to live in”.

The commission’s report reiterates her point, by calling on the planning system to “refuse ugliness. People do not only want beauty in their surroundings. They are repelled by ugliness, which is a social cost that everyone is forced to bear.

“Ugliness means buildings that are unadaptable, unhealthy and unsightly, and which violate the context in which they are placed. Such buildings destroy the sense of place, undermine the spirit of community and ensure that we are not at home in our world,” the report said.

The report backs the Government’s proposal to publish a National Model Design Code, which would act as a template for local authorities to develop their own design codes in line with local needs and preferences. It also calls for a review of affordable housing, in particular recommending revised minimum standards for space, amenity and comfort.

“The model code should define the segments, ratios, façade patterns or cross-sections that make for popular and well-designed places,” the report said. All proposals for new development should “indicate the scale and design features on the development, particularly on strategic sites” and comply with the local design codes.

Amid a spate of delays to local plans and regeneration frameworks in the North, the commission called for a review of the timescales for local plan preparation, saying that they take too long to prepare.


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