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Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

Category: News November 16th, 2012 by mbc

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on green belt protection through the new Economic Development Bill. My scepticism spews forth driven from several sources including, Nick Boles MP recent comments that the green belt is only safe “for now“, the forth-coming aforementioned Bill that reportedly will look to sacrifice the green belt at the altar of the construction industry and Eric Pickles commitment to protect the green belt “the green belt plays a vital role in stopping urban sprawl and we will protect it“. I can’t help but read that like the board of a football club backing the current manager, there’s usually a stab in the back behind the fine words of reassurance.

This caused me to think again about one of the documentary foundations of all this change and threat, the National Planning Policy Framework.

Burrowing through it again, I found this intriguing section that I wanted to share (apologies for the hacked about editing):

7. Requiring good design
56. The Government attaches great importance to the design of the built environment. Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, is indivisible from good planning, and should contribute positively to making places better for people.

Planning policies and decisions should aim to ensure that developments:
> will function well and add to the overall quality of the area, not just for the short term but over the lifetime of the development;

> respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials, while not preventing or discouraging appropriate innovation;

59. Local planning authorities should consider using design codes where they could help deliver high quality outcomes. However, design policies should avoid unnecessary prescription or detail and should concentrate on guiding the overall scale, density, massing, height, landscape, layout, materials and access of new development in relation to neighbouring buildings and the local area more generally.

60. Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles. It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness.

61. Although visual appearance and the architecture of individual buildings are very important factors, securing high quality and inclusive design goes beyond aesthetic considerations. Therefore, planning policies and decisions should address the connections between people and places and the integration of new development into the natural, built and historic environment.

63. In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which help raise the standard of design more generally in the area.

64. Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.

65. Local planning authorities should not refuse planning permission for buildings or infrastructure which promote high levels of sustainability because of concerns about incompatibility with an existing townscape, if those concerns have been mitigated by good design (unless the concern relates to a designated heritage asset and the impact would cause material harm to the asset or its setting which is not outweighed by the proposal’s economic, social and environmental benefits).

66. Applicants will be expected to work closely with those directly affected by their proposals to evolve designs that take account of the views of the community. Proposals that can demonstrate this in developing the design of the new development should be looked on more favourably.

National Planning Policy Framework page 14

Quite simply, who decides what is good design? That statement seems to try and cover all the bases and fails to cover any of them: have design policies but don’t enforce them, let ‘good’ design over-rule all else, let everyone decide…

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The national planning policy framework

Category: News October 11th, 2011 by mbc

I’ve spoken about the National Planning Policy Framework in a couple of posts of late. I’ve given my opinion and provided links to others who support my view – but that’s not very even-handed of me, so I thought I should present some information about the Framework, what it means, says and its current status.

To begin at the end – with the current status of the framework, it is currently a draft proposal for consultation, consultation will close on 17 October 2011.

So what’s the Framework all about? You can find full details of the Framework on the communities.gov.uk website. Follow that link to the landing page from where you can access lots more detail. Scroll down to the downloads section for the framework document itself. I can’t say I’ve studied the report in great detail, nor do I have a strong grounding in planning or local plans, but nevertheless I thought I’d share my observations and thoughts on the framework…

The authors of the report, the Department for Communities and Local Government lead with:

We have published the draft National Planning Policy Framework for consultation. This is a key part of our reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible, and to promote sustainable growth. We are keen to hear views from all interested parties on the draft and how it might be improved.

…and some of the opening rhetoric sounds good…

Our natural environment is essential to our wellbeing, and it can be better looked after than it has been. Habitats that have been degraded can be restored. Species that have been isolated can be reconnected. Green belt land that has been depleted of diversity can be refilled by nature – and opened to people to experience it, to the benefit of body and soul.

This statement seems to describe the heart of the framework:

Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay – a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision. This framework sets out clearly what could make a proposed plan or development unsustainable.

Ok, so we rely on the framework to define the rules that we’ll use to decide which developments are sustainable and those which are not sustainable will not be allowed to proceed.

I find that the meaning of the word sustainable when used in the framework is somewhat at odds with my own understanding…

A positive planning system is essential because, without growth, a sustainable future cannot be achieved.

…I’m not sure I follow or agree with that statement – why state that growth is a prerequisite for a sustainable future? Many would argue that sustainability and growth are mutually exclusive. (As just one example, See The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality).

In general the approach to planning championed by the document isn’t a great deviation from what would currently be considered best practice – early engagement of developers with the community, pre-application discussion, an expectation of high quality and inclusive design, protection of valuable assets such as the greenbelt, heritage sites and so on.

Neighbourhood plans that ‘give communities direct power to plan the areas in which they live’ feature heavily in the framework and I must admit make me nervous. Too small, too local and (most importantly) too easy to manipulate to make me comfortable without an greater understanding of the governance around the community groups who will wield this power.

Another rather bold statement amused me:

Everyone should have the opportunity to live in high quality, well designed homes, which they can afford, in a community where they want to live.

…To which I flipantly reply…”I’d like my house in Knightsbridge now please!”

There is a thread that runs through the framework that generates some unease in me. That thread suggests a buccaneerering approach to planning. Statements such as these are bound to cause concern and generate opposition:

Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible.

…grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.

[On Communications Infrastructure]: Local planning authorities should not question whether the service to be provided is needed…

Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:
• an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
• the need for and benefits of the development clearly outweigh the loss.
[I think most of us would prefer a simple blanket ban on developing playing fields – enough have already been lost. Cost-benefit analyses can easily be ‘massaged’ by powerful developers with pots of cash. The same sort of language is used in relation to heritage assets.]

…not require applicants for energy development to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or low-carbon energy and also recognise that even small-scale projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions…

To end on a postive note, there is a further underlying positive thread encouraging appropriate design for communities – a hint of the just out of reach utopia that you pick up from books such as A Pattern Language and The Barefoot Architect [my review coming soon!].

Anyway, I encourage you to read and ruminate for yourself…

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