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MHCLG’s proposals for design and beauty welcomed, but support needed for local housebuilders

Words: Laura Edgar
What you thought / iStock-1131004136

The RTPI has welcomed the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) proposals to prioritise design and ensure that communities play a part in the process.

The proposals to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) are intended to ensure that it places a greater emphasis on beauty and placemaking. MHCLG has also published a draft national design code and set out a commitment to establishing an ‘office for place’.

Responding to the announcements, RTPI chief executive and member of the government’s Design Steering Group, Victoria Hills, welcomed the MHCLG’s commitment to good-quality design.

“The RTPI has long called for design to be an integral part of the planning process. A survey in 2020 revealed that 88 per cent of our members wanted greater powers to reject poor design but lacked the resources to do so.

“A further survey showed 61 per cent of planners have the skills, knowledge and experience to focus on design quality but did not have enough capacity.

“I am therefore delighted that the government has listened and pledged to not only strengthen the national planning framework to empower local planning authorities to prioritise design and drive up quality, but has also committed to inject much-needed funding in this area.”

In its response to the Comprehensive Spending Review, which was downgraded to a one-year Spending Review in November 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the RTPI asked for £81 million over four years for a design quality fund. Hills said the government proposals are  “an encouraging first step towards that goal”.

“I am also pleased that communities will be at the heart of this process. It has never been more important, in the wake of the pandemic, that communities have a say on how their local area looks.

“Planners and the planning system must play an active role in driving up design quality in all areas of England and we look forward to making an ongoing contribution to this work in advance of the forthcoming planning bill.”

More needed to help local housebuilders

Brian Berry, chief executive at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “Local housebuilders bring forward high-quality and bespoke homes in places where people want to live. They naturally sit at the heart of plans to improve the beauty, quality and design of our homes. However, we must not compromise on consumer choice nor the proliferation of the self and custom-build sector, which offers everyone the chance to design and build their own homes.”

He highlighted that local housebuilders have had a "difficult year" and while policy agendas on beauty and environmental provisions “are important”, the government must do more to remove the structural barriers that local house builders are currently facing”.

“This should include investing in local authority planning departments so that they can make decisions more quickly and get Britain building.”

Berry urged the government to accept the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s recommendation for VAT to be cut to 5 per cent on home improvement works. “As the commission reports, cutting VAT will stimulate the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) market, creating jobs and an economic boost for each community across the country. It will also improve the state of repair of our homes, and hence their beauty.”

Councils should be at the forefront

David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), commented: “We look forward to seeing the details of the draft national design code and the new office for place. We want to continue to work with the government to get these proposals right.

“Councils need to be at the forefront of a locally determined planning system which meets the housing needs and aspirations of their communities, and support proposals that go some way to facilitating that.

“Along with government, we want to ensure that homes are built to a high standard, with the necessary infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places, and ensure that affordable housing is provided.”

Proposals are ‘heartening’

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said it is “heartening” to see the government put design at the forefront of how the kinds of homes and neighbourhoods people want to see are built. “These must be low-carbon neighbourhoods, connected via affordable public transport bursting with green spaces and nature that are shaped by the needs of local communities.”

However, evidence suggests this is not the case at the minute, he said. “The design quality of developments delivered in the past decade have been overwhelmingly mediocre or poor, with countryside communities getting the worst design of all. This situation looks set to worsen if the government pursues the unnecessary and damaging planning proposals currently proposed. Rather than placing local communities at the heart of the planning process, proposals in the planning white paper would sideline local voices and effectively halve democratic input in the planning process, inevitably worsening the quality of design.

“It’s high time that ministers rethink these proposals and ensure local communities’ right to take part in planning for their local area is protected. Not doing so would undermine local democracy and frustrate all our desires for good design, long before the first brick is laid.”

Read more:

NPPF to emphasise place-making

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