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13/10/2021

Good design has a process – let’s follow it

Used well, the National Model Design Code and National Design Guidance give us a strong base and should bring about higher standards of design, observes Hilary Satchwell

Following the publication of an updated NPPF where so many things hinge on the term “well-designed”, what stands out for me is how much of the discussion isn’t about the actual wording, but more about what people think it says – or even what they might want it to say.

Rhetoric about traditional design is sometimes seen as a shortcut to well-designed places but the reality is more complex and often oversimplified. Well-designed, beautiful places start much earlier than architectural elevations, bricks and mortar.

Used well, the National Model Design Code (NMDC) and National Design Guidance give us a strong base and should bring about higher standards, especially when supported by good local guidance that is driven by each area’s defining characteristics, needs and aspirations. 

More importantly, these places come from an aligned design and planning process that moves from strategy to detail in a logical sequence. They have a clear vision from early on that drives forward the design and that follows all the way through, and they come about with careful consideration of a range of views and issues.

Understanding of these characteristics is not as widespread as we think, but there are useful examples setting out how a coordinated design process can work. 

"Well-designed, beautiful places start much earlier than architectural elevations, bricks and mortar"

Ahead of the NMDC, Bradford’s design guidance brought together design and planning in a workable manual – starting with defining the brief and working through creating a neighbourhood and making a home, before going into more detail. Local people and engagement need to sit at the heart of new plans, and applicants must build the community holistically, ensuring it remains fit for generations to come.

We need well-resourced local authorities with design officers or advisers at both policy and guidance stage, as well as through regulatory processes, for this to work. We need the Office for Place to move forward the discussion at national level, and we need developers and landowners to engage with the concerns people have for the places delivered on their doorsteps. As an industry, we need to understand which parts of the debate relate to apprehension about change and how much is about developments that do not meet residents’ needs.

Hilary Satchwell is director of Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Image credit | iStock

 

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