New model design code to 'bring back beauty'

Government publishes new National Model Design Code designed to ‘bring back beauty’.

Following the publication of the consultation draft amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework, the Government are also consulting on the draft National Model Design Code.

The Government hope that this design code will be utilised to inform the production of local design codes and guides and the determination of planning applications. It also sets out methods to capture and reflect the views of the local community at each stage of the development process.

The National Model Design Code is intended to form part of the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance but is not a statement of national policy. Once finalised, the Government will recommend that the advice on how to prepare design codes and guides is followed.

The Design establishes a baseline standard of quality and practice which local authorities are expected to take into account in the following areas:

  • The layout of new development, including street pattern.
  • Landscaping, including the importance of streets being tree lined.
  • The factors to be considered when determining whether the facades of buildings are sufficiently high quality.
  • The environmental performance of place and buildings, ensuring that they contribute to net zero targets.
  • Developments should clearly take account of local vernacular and heritage, architecture and materials.

The document provides specific guidance as to how to determine the scope of a new design code, an analysis of the area covered, a vision for how a place will develop in the future, the distribution of area types, masterplanning, guidance for area types (e.g. town centre, suburbs, urban neighbourhood).

As the National Model Design Code will not be a statement of national policy, there is no statutory requirement for it to be followed. The Government intends to pilot the National Model Design Code with 20 communities.  It is too early to determine how successful the code will be in improving the design of developments as a whole.

The overarching goal of government is to improve the design standards of the development generally,  this echo’s the government publications and statements, including; building better building beautiful commission and the planning for the future white paper of 2020. Both overly seek to encourage design to up their game and put quality of design front and centre of planning decisions.  

In response David Jones, Head of Planning and previous Chair of the Gloucestershire Design Review Panel commented:

"It should be the aim of all involved in the development process to seek the highest quality and design of buildings and their associated public realm.  This is particularly true in my opinion of those schemes which have the largest impact upon the greatest number of people including residential development schemes of all sizes and urban redevelopment proposals.

The scope for the most significant change in my view is in the way mass housing is designed and delivered.   Despite all of the rhetoric over the last few years there are still too many residential housing schemes which have no sense of place, provide designs from a standard template of house types frequently regurgitated over the last 20 years lacking local distinctiveness and providing no real attempt to provide a pleasing or attractive public realm."

There are many reasons for this, the pressure to significantly increase the delivery of housing has overridden matters of design quality local authorities feeling the pressure to approve large housing schemes almost irrespective of their quality.

A matter further exacerbated by local authorities lacking design champions within local authority offices and an unwillingness by those promoting developments to engage with local design panels.

I thus welcome the re-emphasis upon quality of design, my fear however is that design quality will rightly be imposed upon housing schemes, however unless there is a significant change in the attitude of local authority decision-makers low hanging fruit of smaller schemes will come under significant scrutiny whereas the larger housing schemes will be granted with still inadequate consideration of their design quality contribution to place.

Time will tell whether the national design code will bring about the much trumpeted design quality that we should all strive for.  Seeking to improve design  can only be deemed a positive, however the challenge will remain that many local authorities are under resourced and simply do not have the skill base required to bring about meaningful change.

David Jones is MD/Head of Planning at Evans Jones. If you would like any further information on the above article or other planning matters, contact David on 0800 0014090 or email