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08/07/2021

Local design guides can be the basis of attractive, healthy and safe neighbourhoods

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Ashby-de-la-Zouch castle / Shutterstock_30136168

Design guides tailored to specific areas can be powerful placemaking tools for local authorities and communities, argues Rob Thompson.

2-minute read

North West Leicestershire District Council has been picked as one of 14 councils to pilot the creation of a local design code based on the National Model Design Code. This is the next stage of a 14-year design journey that has significantly raised standards across the district and continued the transformation of a former coalfield area.

It’s an attractive place to live, within the National Forest between Leicester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Derby There is pressure for development; the local plan has a target of 480 dwellings a year. 

The council doesn’t want to stand still, but to develop the vision for the district in conjunction with the local plan review. The pilot is a great way for us to reassess and balance our priorities against the National Model Design Code.

“A design guide offers consistency – which should not be confused with monotony”

We already have an excellent good practice SPD, but it was written four years ago. This has put in place a methodology for evaluating place and encouraged a 'landscape-led' approach to development that recognises the role of the National Forest and Charnwood Forest within the district.

We’re looking to refresh this and align it with the National Model Design Code, taking on board lessons learned over the past 14 years. We won’t necessarily be specific about what goes where, but want to ensure that when development comes forward it is informed by the council’s aspirations for good placemaking. However, our planning policy team is involved with the pilot because they review the local plan, so it will contribute to thinking about what goes where.

There will always be a variety of views. Our guide will encourage the creation of connected, attractive, safe, and healthy neighbourhoods that promote active travel and social interaction, with access to green space. We think these are things the public and council officers will see eye to eye on.

A design guide offers consistency – which should not be confused with monotony. Coherence creates or reinforces character. Most Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian neighbourhoods, for example, employed a consistency of material but avoided monotony in detailing that provides visual interest and authenticity and helps to tie a development together.

Time will be the ultimate test, but we think our local design guide will open the door to more attractive, safe, green and healthy places founded on stronger public support.

Rob Thompson is an urban designer at North West Leicestershire District Council

Image credit | Shutterstock

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