living with beauty:
promoting health, wellbeing and sustainable growth

19  February 2020

The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission's (BBBBC) report ‘Living with Beauty: Promoting Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Growth’ was published last month and advocates a proposed overhaul of the current planning system, to be replaced by a new development and planning framework.

This framework approach focuses on three key aims; Ask for Beauty, Refuse Ugliness and Promote Stewardship. In order to achieve this, the report targets eight ‘priority areas’ where policy proposals are needed:

  1. Planning: create a predictable level playing field
  2. Communities: bring the democracy forward
  3. Stewardship: incentivise responsibility to the future
  4. Regeneration: end the scandal of left behind place
  5. Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses
  6. Nature: re-green our towns and cities
  7. Education: promote a wider understanding of placemaking
  8. Management: value planning, count happiness, procure properly

In all, there are 44 policy proposals recommended in the report, spread across these eight priority areas. Each policy proposal is given a primary responsibility (Government, Local Government, Homes England, Professional Bodies, Landowners, Developers, Educational Bodies or Civil Society) and a possible timescale for implementation (Short Term <2 years or Medium Term < 5 years). 

Our view

It’s always encouraging to see new material published that promotes placemaking and greater design quality within our built environment. The BBBBC’s report challenges our current planning system by calling for its complete overhaul with a new focus on its three key aims as previously outlined.

Although beauty is a key principle of placemaking and good design, it must not outweigh the other, more easily quantifiable Vitruvian principles of Functionality and Durability, which are of equal importance in promoting placemaking and good design. High quality developments should be robust and stand the test of time; function well for the people that use them; should be beautiful and provide delight.

It is positive to see that the target themes include emphasising the need to create places and not just houses, ending the scandal of ‘left-behind’ places and promoting a wider understanding of placemaking through education and skills development.

At present, the current planning system does not provide Local Planning Authorities with the policy framework to refuse ugliness as a single issue, nor does it reward or provide incentives for developers and landowners to produce beauty for every site. The recommendations to develop a stewardship kitemark and remove tax disincentives which act as a barrier to the longer-term approach, are to be welcomed if they result in a genuine continuing perspective of development.

The key test of whether this report is a success will be putting the recommendations into practice. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, has promised that the government will implement as many of the policy proposals as possible, which may be timed with the forthcoming planning white paper, due to be published later this year

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