The argument that quality building design goes hand-in-hand with social acceptability is generally acknowledged in certain circles of the development industry. Despite this, in recent times, not enough credence has been given to quality design in planning decisions.
Policy Exchange’s new report, Building More, Building Beautiful, has thrust this issue into the spotlight, suggesting that the ‘reverberating effects’ of high land prices are ‘driving down design standards’. The report ultimately calls for policy change, suggesting key amends be added to the new NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) to ensure that homes are designed beautifully.
The first question this raises is what constitutes a beautiful building? For some communities this may entail a modernist skyscraper. But for many others, beauty would entail a far more conservative and traditional design code, as suggested in the findings of the report. What’s clear is that because beauty is in the eye of the beholder it’s only possible to achieve widespread buy in through early engagement and listening to people before an architectural approach is set.
Chiming with the results of Copper’s Attitudes’ Research 2017, Policy Exchange’s report shows that people are not only accepting, but welcoming, of new housing development in their neighbourhood. However, only 10% of people polled believe that new developments are well designed, and only 3% of people believe they have a say over how new developments are designed.
Copper supports the Prince’s Foundation to promote its BIMBY (Beauty in my Back Yard) Toolkit as part of Enquiry by Design workshops for new housing developments. The BIMBY Toolkit empowers people to influence design, building communities, not just housing estates. Our experience has shown that this approach to consultation leads to support of new development, ultimately increasing the likelihood of planning permission, and the delivery of desperately needed housing.
Policy Exchange’s recommendation for every local authority to produce a design and style guide in consultation with local residents, if adopted, could go some way in addressing the issue of poor quality design coupled with lack of opportunity for communities to genuinely shape the development of their neighbourhoods.
However, the wider economic issues associated with poor housing design, particularly in London and the South East, stem from the extortionate land value which leads to a compromise on design and build quality. The report’s recommendations go some way in trying to address this, suggesting the NPPF should include regulations which speed up the planning process and provide greater success certainty, but is this enough to enable developers to truly invest in quality design?
One thing is clear though, that recommendations such as the ones laid out in this report are a step in the right direction. If adopted into national planning policy, they could bring developers and the public together to help create beautiful places, and indeed, could be a catalyst for longer term positive change.