National Model Design Code moves a step closer

What does it mean for developers?

Tree-lined streets, updates to the planning framework and a new National Model Design Code are among recommendations being put forward by the Government in a bid to improve the design and quality of new urban areas.

In early 2020, the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission produced its Living With Beauty report, with 45 policy propositions and 130 recommendations aimed at championing beauty in the built environment.

The Government’s response includes proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and a National Model Design Code setting out guidance that local authorities must follow and interpret according to their area.

What could these changes mean to developers and builders of new homes in England?

Recap: what did the Living with Beauty report recommend?

The Commission’s report set out 45 detailed policy propositions across eight themes:

  1. Planning: create a predictable level playing field

Beautiful placemaking should be enshrined as a fundamental aim of the planning system, along with greater certainty of planning outcomes, and increased diversity of developers.

  1. Communities: bring the democracy forward

Use of a co-design approach, assisted by greater use of digital technology, should be used to improve community engagement in the planning process, in particular on local plans

  1. Stewardship: incentivise responsibility to the future

Development should aim for long-term investment rather than quick profit, in which the values that matter to people – beauty, community, history, landscape – are safeguarded.

  1. Regeneration: end the scandal of left behind places

Ask of left-behind places “what will help make these good places to live?” and encourage development to be regenerative not parasitic.

  1. Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses

Develop more homes within mixed-use real places at “gentle density”, and change the model of development from “building units” to “making places.”

  1. Nature: re-green our towns and cities

Green spaces, waterways and wildlife habitats should be seen as integral to the urban fabric. Commit to a radical plan to plant 2m street trees within five years, and place greater focus on access to nature and green spaces.

  1. Education: promote a wider understanding of placemaking

The need to invest in and improve the understanding and confidence of professionals and local councillors in design and placemaking.

  1. Management: value planning, count happiness, procure properly

To change the corporate performance and procurement targets of public bodies to take adequate account of quality.

Overview of the Government’s response

While some of the response is contained in the Government’s Planning for the Future white paper, specific areas of action are summarised below:

  1. Beauty, design quality and placemaking will become a strategic theme in proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework, making “design quality” a key issue in consenting schemes, and conversely where poorer quality schemes should be refused planning. Street character, building type, façade and requirements that address wellbeing and environmental impact will be considered
  2. A new National Model Design Code (expected to be published in spring 2021), which expands on the National Design Guide. Planning authorities will be expected to produce local design guides and codes based on the national model
  3. An interim Office for Place will explore options for establishing a new expert design body, which the Government wishes to create in 2022. They will also pilot the National Model Design Code in 20 communities
  4. One of the more eye-catching recommendations is to make “street trees” a default approach for development design. National Planning Policy Frameworks will make it clear that “new streets should be tree lined unless there are very clear, justifiable and compelling reasons not to.”
  5. The Government will continue to explore the idea of stewardship including overall costs and benefits and possible tax implications
  6. Homes England to give greater weight to design quality in land disposals and consider how a design quality assessment process could be applied to its other programmes.

The Government’s full response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s report can be found here.


Please Note: Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication. Any written guidance provided does not replace the reader’s professional judgement and any construction project should comply with the relevant Building Regulations or applicable technical standards. However, for the most up to date LABC Warranty technical guidance please refer to your risk management surveyor and the latest version of the LABC Warranty Technical Manual.

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