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      2021: The New Beautiful

      Following Government release of the draft National Model Design Code (NMDC), a consultation is currently underway with the deadline for responses to be submitted by 11.45pm on 27 March. Fiona Williams, Principal in the Heritage and Design team, outlines the proposed requirements set out in the Design Code in our latest Planning blog.

      15 Feb 2021 4 MINUTE READ

      The code is one of the first national documents to come out of the ‘Living with Beauty’ report, undertaken by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. The commission identified the need to secure greater community support for new development and suggested that this could be achieved through ensuring developments consistently meet the expectations of local communities with better design.

      It will be important for consultancies within the sector to provide clarity to clients on how design codes will potentially interact with existing local policy, which often already includes a requirement for ‘good design’.

      Prior to the commission, the concept of ‘beauty’ as a defined term within the planning sector was seen as something of a third rail, with the merits of one architectural style over another as the source of endless conflict in both design circles as well as with the wider public. The question ‘what is beautiful?’ may have troubled philosophers for millennia, however the commission has confidently directed local authorities to ‘ask for beauty, refuse ugliness’. In fact, the language of the draft Model Design Code distances itself from any discussion of preferable style and rather emphasises a contextual approach and heightened specificity.

      The following considerations to be included within design codes are encouraged within the draft text, which aims to create a ‘baseline standard of quality and practice’:

      • The layout of new development, including street patterns;
      • How landscaping should be approached including the importance of streets being tree-lined;
      • The factors to be considered when determining whether façades of buildings are of sufficiently high quality;
      • The environmental performance of place and buildings ensuring they contribute to net zero targets;
      • That developments should clearly take account of local vernacular and heritage, architecture and materials.

      The Model Design Code provides a template for local planning authorities for their own design codes, with the draft document emphasising a specificity of approach. Visual or numerical parameters such as ‘eaves height’ or ‘set back from building line’ are encouraged and set out within suggested separate sections considering movement, identity, nature, built form and public space.
      The provision of detailed and evidenced analysis of the local built context, and how potential developments comply in the form of character studies, is also specified. Clients will therefore require guidance on understanding the degree of innovation and variance that will be acceptable, as well as assistance in producing character studies themselves.

      The interaction with existing protection for heritage assets will be of key concern to developers, with the codes potentially providing specific limitations on what would be acceptable within a heritage asset’s setting. It should be noted that while the wording of the NMDC is consistent with that of the NPPF, the document references historic rather than heritage assets, suggesting that a wider range of buildings and structures could be taken into consideration beyond those already specified within the national or local list.

      Design is already more tightly controlled within conservation areas, through the requirement to avoid harmful impact to their character and appearance. Accompanying Conservation Area Appraisals already specify constraints in terms of proposed design within these areas. The practical application of design codes upon the development of a site already controlled through a variety of existing (and potentially contradictory) policy constraints will therefore need careful consideration and clients are likely to require detailed initial scoping exercises in order to proceed with confidence.


      Bidwells offers a range of skills which are already familiar with the requirements being set out in the Draft Design Code. Our urban design and heritage teams already undertake such work and will be able to assist clients in navigating these new objectives. Get in touch with us, if you wish to discuss your requirements further.

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