Planning to create space for beauty?

Back in November 2018 we reported on the launch of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’. The stated goal of the Commission was to develop “practical policy solutions to ensure the design and style of new developments, including new settlements and the country’s high streets, help to grow a sense of community and place, not undermine it.”

The Commission has now published its interim report: “Creating Space for Beauty”, which identifies thirty areas of potential change. For those who have the time, the Interim Report makes for an interesting and thought provoking read on the subject (not a quality often attributable to interim government reports).

For those who don’t, among the thirty policy recommendations included in the Report, the following recommendations are of note:

  • Beauty and place-making should be embedded prominently in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), associated guidance and encouraged via ministerial statement.
  • Both beauty and the ‘spirit of place’ should be both defined and demanded locally. Local Plans should embed this national requirement for beauty and place making before any decisions are made about allocating land or making policy decisions.
  • There should be a rediscovery of civic pride in architecture. Public sector procurement of buildings should place major focus on beauty and place-making.
  • Local Authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State should be encouraged and supported to refuse development on grounds of poor design and to encourage beautiful and popular place making. Ugly buildings refused permission should be highlighted for their poor design (in the manner of the ‘Carbuncle Cup’ awards, which denigrate bad design, post-construction?).
  • Public policy should support a growing role for the strategic land and infrastructure investor, master-builder, place maker or legacy business model (as opposed to the building of single use housing estates on the ‘next field’ basis). A possible strengthening of compulsory purchase orders as a means to help public sector bodies play a more active role in land assembly is suggested.
  • The quality and breadth of public engagement with the plan making process needs to be improved in order to better engage the public with strategic decisions on where development may happen and what it looks like.
  • There should be a review of what changes in legal and tax regimes would better support a long-term stewardship model of land and infrastructure investment in the development of new or remodelled settlements (as opposed to a speculative, short term approach).
  • The ‘right to transfer’ regulations and the ‘right to buy’ assets of community value should be strengthened to encourage the growing community-led housing movement.
  • There should be a fairer tax for existing places e.g. alignment of VAT treatment of repair and maintenance work for existing buildings with construction of new buildings.
  • A regeneration of high streets should focus on physical services, experiences and social interactions. High streets need to be more pleasant with a greater mix of retail, service, offices (including micro-offices) and homes. National and local policy should seek to permit or encourage a greater diversity of appropriate uses on and surrounding high streets. A reduction in business rates and the re-balancing of the ratings system is also suggested to help to sustain smaller shops. New local high streets should be planned for and required in new settlements so as to achieve a sustainable urban footprint, encourage modal shift and bring land value uplifts.
  • As long-term retail demand and shopping habits change, local policy should encourage authorities to work with investors on the redevelopment of low density single use commercial space, retail parks and large format supermarkets (‘boxland’) into mixed ‘finely-grained’ developments of homes, retail and commercial uses which can support and benefit from public transport.
  • The planning system should strongly encourage mixed-use and ‘gentle density’ settlement. Such settlements have the advantages of density (more neighbourliness, more walkable lifestyle patterns) and lower density (more personal space, more greenery, cleaner air) and are considered frequently the best ways to deliver beautiful development and secure community consent, whilst also developing in more sustainable land use patterns and building local economies.
  • Overly car-dominated places tend to be less attractive or popular. More should be done to reduce car reliance and help reclaim streets for people; making them safer, considering parking provision and how provision of cycle infrastructure or public transport can support more humane and popular places.
  • More needs to be done to build in as central elements of all planning decisions access to nature and green spaces – both existing and new – for all new and remodelled developments. This must not be negotiated out on ‘viability grounds.’
  • Deliberative engagement and design processes should be used to facilitate wider community engagement in design solutions at all levels of scale. There should be much greater weight placed in planning applications on the criteria set out within the Statement of Community Involvement to demonstrate how proposals have evolved as a result of local feedback. The quality and breadth of public engagement with the plan making (as opposed to the development control) process needs to be systemically improved and is considered critical.
  • Where good master plans or designs are approved it is those schemes that should be built – not a diluted version down the line. There should be a greater probability of enforcement and stricter sanctions. Consideration should be given to what is actually approved at outline consent to ensure quality is delivered, such as the Design & Access Statement.
  • The promises made by prospective developers at bid stage should be secured to ensure they flow through into the contracts and are enforceable through step-in rights or the use of building licences and leases.

The final report is due before the end of the year.

Posted on: 07/08/2019

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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