CSA says: Three observations from the new ‘Living with Beauty’ report

February 3rd, 2020

The Building Better Building Beautiful (BBBB) Commission published their report Living with Beauty last week. The commission is an independent body set up to advise government on increasing design standards. Here are three potentially critical observations which may shape design related policy and direction in the coming months and years:

‘Good design and beautiful places’

The report recommends that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) reference the importance of placemaking. It sets out the reference should feature in chapters 2 (Achieving sustainable development) and 12 (Achieving well-designed places) of the NPPF, with beauty and placemaking seen as ‘strategic cross-cutting themes’.

The commission also recommends for references to good design in the NPPF to be replaced with ‘good design and beautiful places’, with beauty and placemaking becoming an integral feature more widely across relevant government strategies, including in forthcoming legislation such as the Environment Bill.

Net gain for design

‘Net gain’ may not just be a term associated with ecology. The commission calls for the design of new development to achieve net gain not just ‘no net harm’. To do this, it suggests that the important paragraph 130 of the NPPF be reworded to say:

‘Development that is not well designed should be refused. Well-designed development will take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions, be properly served by infrastructure and will contribute towards meeting the needs of the wider community. It will also take into account…’

Detailed design policy at the local level

The report proposes that local authorities, neighbourhood forums and parishes should be ‘strongly encouraged’ to achieve the national requirement for beauty and placemaking from the outset, before any decisions are made about allocating land or making development control decisions. It asserts that this is achieved by gaining local views on what defines the local ‘spirit of place’ and define this empirically. The recommendations suggest the use of ‘detailed design codes’ to be included in local plan documents, supplementary planning documents or neighbourhood plans.

One immediate question this raises is do local authorities and other local bodies have the resources to prepare such codes? Equally, should the preparation of development plans and the determination of planning decisions be delayed by the need to prepare local codes? At CSA Environmental, we feel a better balance needs to be struck.