Putting the ‘beautiful’ back into planning?

While much has been written about the housing crisis and how to solve it, the question of beauty has rarely featured in the wider debate. However, on 3rd November 2018, the Community Secretary Rt Honourable James Brokenshire MP launched the new “Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission”, to be chaired by the conservative aesthetics philosopher Sir Roger Scruton.

This initiative builds on a recent trend in government policy towards a greater emphasis on good design, something which our previous Rollits article "New National Planning Policy Framework Published" highlighted as one of the unexpected focuses of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (published July 2018). This development can be seen as a response to concerns that previous polices have been myopically directed towards increasing housing numbers. This has led to rush of unattractive, badly built developments, which frequently attract widespread local opposition.

According to the Press Release, the focus of the Commission will be “on the creation of places and homes that are popular with local communities, attractive and respect the character and identity of the area in which they are located, whilst meeting the needs of people now and in the future”.

The Commission aims to address this by (emphasis added):

  • Promoting better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, and to reflect local wishes, knowledge and tradition.
  • Investigating how new towns and villages can be developed with greater local support.
  • To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it

In considering the likely direction the new Commission will take, those unfamiliar with Roger Scruton can take some indication from his support for Prince Charles’ settlement in Dorset, Poundsbury. In previous decades this traditionalist architectural style and philosophy has been largely excluded from the architectural mainstream, or simply treated as an object of ridicule. Instead town planning has continued to be dominated by the homogeny of familiar modernist and internationalist aesthetics, which have characterised most post-War development.

The impact of this relatively small innovation remains to be seen. While there may be little immediate impact at the level of individual planning permissions, more significant developments may find that they are under great pressure to display good (read: expensive) design and materials. More positively, those developments that can demonstrate good design and a sympathy to (rather than simply responding to or ignoring) the local built environment and its traditions, may find their course through the planning system smoother and objections raised fewer.

The Commission will report directly to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire, and will make final recommendations towards the end of 2019.

Posted on: 06/11/2018

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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