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18/05/2017

More BIMBY, less NIMBY

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Design blueprint

An emphasis on design quality achieved through community engagement can help people embrace new development, argues Paul Drew

Did the housing white paper go far enough? Let’s just say it didn’t herald a brave new world of high-quality homes for all. With the paper out for consultation until May and the dust having settled on the immediate reactions, what does it actually mean in terms of the design of housing? Quality, not just quantity, matters.

It’s all very well to say that communities should have their voices heard (they should). But if local people are to have a say in the design of new housing, they should also have a say in where these developments will be. Communities across the country are crying out for new homes. As planners and developers, we should take a proactive approach – less NIMBY and more BIMBY (beauty in my backyard).

Government advice on neighbourhood planning and bimby.org.uk provide useful guidance to local communities. This empowers them to collaborate and shape development in their neighbourhoods, through identifying areas for potential development. 

The BIMBY approach is a design manual that can feed into local planning policy to impact how, and where, an area grows. But there is one major weakness with the BIMBY toolkit. It jumps from identifying land to deciding on characterful features of a forthcoming development. This leaves a large gap in the middle where substantial design issues must also be resolved. Stitching a new development into an existing neighbourhood is not purely based on decoration – there are overarching design principles that need careful consideration. Things are not pretty if you get the bikes, bins and cars wrong.

This is where Building for Life (builtforlifehomes.org) conveniently arises. It is the most robust design tool we have. The white paper rightly recognises it as a key design tool to shape quality places, with 12 principles against which new developments should be assessed. 

What it doesn’t do is help communities from the outset, mostly being framed for applicants and local authorities at pre-application stage. Perhaps a high-quality scheme could come forth without community involvement, indeed many do. But we see so much low-quality housing and such long approval times that could be avoided with community collaboration from the outset.

In order for communities to holistically shape the development and expansion of their neighbourhoods, bimby.org and Building for Life can work together. This approach helps empower local communities while increasing their planning and design awareness. It allows them to be proactive about development rather than staunchly opposing it.  

If there are to be amendments to the NPPF, addressing the links between community need and design is a foundation to build on.

Paul Drew is director of design for Iceni Projects

Image | iStock

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