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“All things bright and beautiful, all buildings great and small”

Construction / 19 February 2020

On 30 January 2020, the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission published its final report called “Living with Beauty: Promoting Health, Well being and Sustainable Growth”. The report proposes a new development and planning framework with a sharp focus on how to ‘promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods’.

Alongside specific policy measures, the report states that the planning systems should have the following aims as a whole:
– Ask for beauty: an essential condition for planning permission should be beauty.
– Refuse ugliness: a primary purpose of the planning system should be to prevent ugliness.
– Promote stewardship: new developments should enhance the environment in which they occur, and existing settlements should be renewed, regenerated and cared for.

The Living with Beauty report also sets out over one hundred policy recommendations for the government and planning bodies, including a goal of planting 2 million trees on streets. This would see developers encouraged to plant a fruit tree in an urban community orchard for every house they build to ‘improve community well-being’.

Organisations such as the UK Green Building Council, Design Council and the County Councils Network welcome the Commission’s final report. They reinforce the report’s message that beauty is so much more than aesthetics and that there is a clear connection between well designed and well placed buildings and enhanced health and well being.  The Royal Institute of British Architects (“RIBA”) has called on the Commission to ensure that beauty is incorporated into a broader definition, ‘quality design’, which is focused on securing positive outcomes for the people that will use and interact with the places being built. RIBA believes that raising standards, particularly design expertise, is key.

Tax breaks for retrofits
As well as proposals to allow a ‘fast track for beauty’, for those who demonstrate a ‘commitment to quality’, the report also suggests scrapping current tax rules that place up to 20% VAT on retrofitting projects, while brand new buildings incur not VAT. The Federation of Master Builders (“FMB”) approves of this suggestion, with Chief Executive, Brian Berry stating ‘I am glad the Commission has highlighted the perverse situation where people are incentive’s to demolish old buildings, rather than restoring them, due to our archaic VAT regime, which puts a zero-rating on new build but charges 20% for repair and maintenance. If we want to restore and maintain our beautiful heritage it is vital we correct this anomaly in the tax system’. The FMB’s full response can be found here.

Our Head of Construction, Lorna Carter, has been working with the FMB for 25 years this year and is an independent member of the FMB’s Standards Committee. Lorna therefore benefits from access to cutting edge insight relating to next steps and we will keep you updated on developments.


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This update is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should seek legal advice before relying on its content. This update relates to the prevailing circumstances at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments. If you have general queries about our updates, please email:

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