On the 20 July 2021, the Government published a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) along with the National Model Design Code (NMDC). According to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, beautiful, environmentally sustainable, and life-enhancing communities are to be at the centre of widespread planning changes.
It is clear that far greater emphasis than ever before will now be placed on quality and design in the planning system and as such there are substantial revisions, in particular, to Chapter 12 of the NPPF (Achieving Well-Designed Places) along with, to the doubtless disappointment of many academic planners, a series of revisions to the paragraph numbers within the document.
Along with the revisions comes an expectation, at Paragraph 128, that 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 to agree design standards locally. These design guides and codes should be prepared with effective community engagement, reflecting local ambitions for development, and can be prepared at an area-wide, neighbourhood or site-specific scale. As mentioned in our previous article on ‘Our Thoughts on the National Model Design Code Consultation’ we expect community engagement on the detail of a guide or code to be challenging based on the technical nature of such documents.
With beauty now at the heart of the planning system and with the national drive towards environmental sustainability we see the introduction at Paragraph 131 of a commitment to ensure that new streets are tree-lined. The revised document seeks to ensure that all plans mitigate climate change and adapt to its effect, pushing for a move to a low carbon economy.
With an emphasis on the need to plan for sustainable transport, the revisions to Chapter 9 (Promoting Sustainable Transport) encourage the provision of attractive and well-designed walking and cycling networks. Whilst the general direction of travel is welcomed, especially with specific reference now made to the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (Paragraph 7), the question must be asked, have the revisions gone far enough to ensure that the Government’s commitment to ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050 will be met?
What is clear from the Government’s latest planning changes is that development that is not well designed should be refused (as explicitly stated in Paragraph 134). However, design is subjective and as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so how the revised NPPF and the NMDC will in practice raise the bar for the delivery of good design at a national scale is unknown. Regardless, we see the sentiment behind the revisions as a positive shift and a definite step in the right direction.
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