This weekend, when we least expected it, the Government released their latest planning reform. The latest consultation is a real ‘beauty’ and adds some exciting content to the Building Better, Building Beautiful commissions’ ‘Living with Beauty’ report.
We have until 27 March 2021 to ponder and comment on ‘all new developments must meet local standards of beauty, quality and design under new rules.’ Not the catchiest of titles, but it encompasses a lot with these four documents:
- National Model Design Code consultation proposals
- Draft text changes to the NPPF
- The draft National Design Code
- The draft National Design Code guidance note
This latest raft of reform will complement the planning practice guidance for local authorities to follow with their own design codes and guides as local policy.
The model and its accompanying guidance has a lot of technical detail to get to grips with, so for now I will concentrate on some of the highlights from the draft revisions to the NPPF, which pick up on various matters such as recent legal cases, the Housing Delivery Test and wider environmental ambitions.
My colleagues in the Urban Design Studio team will comment on the National Design Code document and guidance in due course.
Proposed NPPF revised text
Remarkably there are ZERO changes to reflect the changes to the Use Class Order published in September 2020, meaning no clarity on the high street, retail or employment. This is rather a bizarre omission considering the potential for ambiguity in decision making reflecting on now out of date local plan policies, such as protected retail and designated employment areas etc.
Article 4 directions
This section clarifies that Article 4 directions should be restricted to small geographical areas, as opposed to blanket directions. Could this be a nod to the wider range of permitted development powers? Para 53 seeks ‘the use of article 4 directions to remove permitted development rights should':
- where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts;
- [or as an alternative to the above – where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance];
- where they do not relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require planning permission for the demolition of local facilities);
- in all cases apply to the smallest geographical area possible;
The Presumption in favour of sustainable development
Paragraph 11(a) now reads as:
‘all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects’. – Where it once read ‘plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area, and be sufficiently flexible to adapt to rapid change’
Paragraph 130 is new and rather exciting, as for too long, street trees been dismissed due to local authority highway adoptable standards i.e. cost. It states:
‘Trees make an important contribution to the character and quality of urban environments, and can also help mitigate and adapt to climate change. Planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined49, that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments (such as community orchards), that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible. Applicants and local planning authorities should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places, and solutions are found that are compatible with highways standards and the needs of different users’.
Para 133 is also rather welcomed, proposing to replace the former ‘permission should be refused for poor design’. It states:
‘Development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes. Conversely, significant weight should be given to:
a) development which reflects local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes; and/or
b) outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings’.
There is plenty to ponder, with potentially some real positives for enabling planning reform to improve design and sustainability to benefit ‘health, wellbeing and the environment’. However, this will be toothless if local government does not have the funding and resource to draw up and implement such provisions to deliver this reform.
The potential for an ‘Office of Place’ to assist local government is encouraging, but don’t we already have PAS and CABE to assist and provide clarity and support on such matters? The other question is how and when the local level codes and guidance will be produced; as despite the insistence on the Government to carry on with plan-making, many authorities seem keen to sit and wait for ‘planning reform’ to bed in before they embrace it.