Is this house well designed?

CPRE planner Richard Thompson asks whether a welcome policy aspiration risks becoming just another developer-led tick-box exercise

Ask the public whether the above house is well designed and they are most likely to say yes, it is. Ask the same question to an architect, they are much more likely to dislike iti.
So who is right? What criteria should be applied in making this assessment? Are we just considering how the individual house looks, or how it relates to other houses? Could this design be considered locally distinctive in Essex? If not, why not and what is locally distinctive? Does what looks good in the centre of a town work equally well in the suburbs? If not, where should that line be drawn?
These are all questions that communities, local authorities and anyone else involved in the development industry will be grappling with over the coming months should proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework come to fruition.
Specifically, the proposed changes being consulted upon state that “development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on designii.
To inform this, “all local planning authorities should prepare design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code and which reflect local character and design preferences. These provide a local framework for creating beautiful and distinctive places with a consistent and high-quality standard of design”iii.
A proposed National Model Design Code is also being consulted on alongside the NPPF.
Importantly, “all guides and codes should be based on effective community engagement and reflect local aspirations for the development of their area”.
On the face of it, such proposals are welcome and it is heartening to see recognition of the role effective community engagement will have in this policy’s success. It is this engagement, and the local knowledge that comes with this, that will be key to grappling with the complexity posed by questions such as those above.
It is therefore extremely disappointing that there are no detailed guidance or proposals among the consultation documents as to how effective community engagement will work in practice.
Fundamental to this will be ensuring proper resource is provided to councils and local communities so they can effectively participate in the process. Without such resource, it will fall to those promoting sites and their consultants to demonstrate how they are creating “beautiful and distinctive places with a consistent and high-quality standard of design”.
If this is not properly resourced, an otherwise welcome aspiration risks becoming just another developer-led tick-box exercise, with the planning consultancy industry being handed yet another revenue stream.

  • The consultation documents can be found here


ii Proposed Paragraph 133

iii Proposed Paragraph 133