The National Design Guide:
Creating Well Designed Places

On 1 October 2019 Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, launched a new National Design Guide, forming part of the government’s collection of Planning Practice Guidance. Lucy Fathers sets out the important updates and how this can effect design quality in Bidwells’ latest Planning Alert.

Sitting alongside guidance on design process and tools, it also sets out the intention of publishing the first ever government backed National Model Design Code, which is to be a clear model for delivering better design across England. The national model will be consulted upon following the publication of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission final report which will be published in December 2019.

The guidance forms a material consideration in the decision making process, with the creation of Local Design Guides and Local Design Codes, encouraged to provide quality design advice, specific to the unique setting and character of the area. It remains to be seen if local authorities will have both the resource and expertise to deliver tailored approaches. In the absence of local design guidance, local planning authorities will be expected to defer to the national position.

The Ten Characteristics
Split in to three parts, the document sets out the ten characteristics necessary for creating a well-designed place. These characteristics work together to deliver the three dominating themes of the report: physical character, a sense of community and addressing environmental issues affecting climate. The characteristics are:

  • Context – that development should enhance its surroundings;
  • Identity – that - attractive and distinctive;
  • Built Form – a coherent pattern of development;
  • Movement – accessible and easy to move around;
  • Nature – enhanced and optimised;
  • Public spaces – safe, social and inclusive;
  • Uses – mixed and integrated;
  • Homes and buildings – functional, healthy and sustainable;
  • Resources – efficient and resilient; and,
  • Lifespan – made to last

These characteristics are considered to provide a clear picture for developers to secure proposals of high quality design and will be used by local authorities when assessing planning applications.

The National Design Guide highlights the importance for developments to deliver thoughtful and inclusive wellbeing principles that meet the needs of a diverse range of users. Each of the ten characteristics explore how good design can result in wellbeing for communities. These include:

  • The creation of a positive sense of place that people can identify with;
  • The provision of compact and walkable spaces, where possible;
  • The delivery of strategic patterns of movement that promote activity and social interaction;
  • The provision of attractive open spaces in locations that are easy to access, with activities for all to enjoy;
  • The delivery of well-located public spaces that promote health, well-being, social and civic inclusion; and, 
  • The provision of excellent quality internal and external environments for users

The guidance sets out that wellbeing should be actively factored into planning in order to generate healthier, happier communities. Offering social value to the schemes is vital in the making of high quality place; indeed, this theme is emphasised in our soon to be launched Radical Regeneration Manifesto.

Environmental Focus
As we move towards the Government’s strategy of Net Zero Carbon by 2050, there is a significant focus within the guidance on creating energy efficient buildings in terms of both construction and operation. The focus of the guidance reflects the ‘energy hierarchy’ as set out in NPPF (2019).

A Local Approach
The guidance stresses the roles of local authorities, combined authorities and mayors in facilitating the quality of development in the areas. 

Whilst the guidance provides criteria against which development can be judged, the document adds a level of complexity.

The new guide aims to encourage community led focus for achieving well designed places and buildings through greater genuine involvement in design processes, although, adding perhaps further burden to the pressures of life as a local authority policy officer.

Bidwells thinks
The NPPF states that permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions. The National Design Guide provides a tool for local authorities to assess development proposals in this context. 

In our experience, much of the content of the Design Guide is based upon the best practice applied by built environment professionals and architectural colleagues. However, with the guide being available to stakeholders and local communities, there may will be more scrutiny concerning the design quality of new developments. Poor design that does not abide by the characteristics will be less likely to gain permission. 

It remains to be seen how a Model Design Code can be drawn up to reflect the varying character of the national picture. At the very least, we would expect to see Design and Access Statements written to directly respond to the guidance requirements.

If you are interested in hearing more about Bidwells’ planning services, please contact us.

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