The Building Beautiful Places Plan
On 20 July 2021, the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced details of the ‘Building Beautiful Places’ plan. The plan involves an array of planning changes focussed on building in ways that are more beautiful, environmentally sustainable and to enhance the lives of communities across the country, from city centres to rural villages. The plan means good quality design is paramount and with local communities at the centre of decision-making processes to help shape where they live.
The plan follows the Building Better, Building, Beautiful Commission’s report ‘Living with Beauty: Promoting Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Growth’ published in January 2020 (which we wrote about here). Key features of the new plan include:
— The creation of a National Model Design Code (NMDC) – a toolkit to enable every council and community to create their own local design requirements in keeping with their locality by way of a ‘local design code’. The NMDC will use digital tools, social media, face-to-face workshops, roundtables and tradeshows to show when and how local communities can be involved in the development of the local design code. The local design code will be an illustrated design guide that sets the standards for the local area, with input from local people.
— Amending the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – placing greater emphasis on beauty, place-making, the environment, sustainable development and underlying the importance of local design codes (see above). The NPPF also will set an expectation that good quality design should be approved, while poor quality, ugly and unsustainable plans should be rejected. It will also include an environmental commitment to ensure that all streets are lined with trees.
— The ‘Office for Place’ (within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) – will drive up design standards, testing and piloting the NMDC with more than 20 local councils and communities.
It is hoped that the changes will ‘promote community spirit, improve physical and mental wellbeing and help the environment’. This is the first time that the word “beauty” is specifically included in the planning rules since the system was created in 1947, reflecting an era with an emphasis on building attractive buildings and installing a sense of local pride.
Robert Jenrick MP said: ‘This is about putting communities – not developers – in the driving seat to ensure good quality design is the norm, and the return to a sense of stewardship – to building greener, enduringly popular homes and places that stand the test of time in every sense’.
An emphasis on good design and “building beautifully” is welcomed (although the beauty of course, is in the eye of the beholder and highly subjective). It will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively local design codes will be implemented by councils. With more red-tape in terms of high-quality design and building beautifully, will this affect the Government’s “build build build” mantra to tackle the national housing crisis?
It’s also important to remember that planning reform is high on the agenda this year, with the announcement of the Planning Bill in the Queen’s Speech in May 2021. We will keep you updated on this.
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