Planning reforms mean beauty will be in the eye of the council. The word “beauty” will be included in planning rules for the first time in a drive to eliminate “identikit” housing estates.
Local communities will be given the power to set design standards for all new developments under plans to improve the look and quality of housing. Developers will have to make sure that all new properties adhere to the character of the areas where they are being built, under proposals being announced by Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary.
Any planning proposal that does not meet the new criteria will be automatically rejected by local councils as part of efforts to eliminate “identikit” housing estates.
Symbolically, the word “beauty” is to be included in planning rules for the first time since the system was created in 1947. The measures come in response to the Building Beautiful Commission that reported last year. It called for local people to be given much more say in setting standards for new homes in their areas and emphasising the importance of ensuring that new developments had adequate green space.
The proposals are also designed to offset criticism of the government’s wider proposals for planning reform. A white paper published last year proposed designating areas across the country where planning permission would be automatically granted to meet housing targets. As part of the plan, local planning committees would lose the power to reject developments in zones set out for housing as long as they met set criteria.
The move, however, is facing strong opposition from Tory MPs after it emerged that the algorithm for deciding where homes should be built was skewed towards shire councils in the southeast, while recommending lower numbers in northern cities.
In the hope of seeing off some criticism, the government is publishing a draft national design code that provides a checklist of design principles that councils should consider for new developments. These will include such things as street character, building type, façade and requirements that address wellbeing and environmental impact.
Each local council will then be expected to draw up their own individual design codes in consultation with local residents. They will be supported by a new national Office for Place that will advise councils developing their plans.
Nicholas Boys Smith, who will lead the new body, said the plan was to make it easier to refuse ugly new developments. “There is no fundamental reason that prevents the creation of streets and squares, homes as places where we can lead happy, healthy, and connected lives,” he said. “As a society we have not done this, and we are paying the consequences. Our ultimate purpose will be to make it easier for neighbourhood communities to ask for what they find beautiful and to refuse what they find ugly”.
Jenrick said too much recent development had been inappropriate. “We should aspire to pass on our heritage and our unique built environment, not depleted but enhanced. To do that, we need to bring about a lasting change in the buildings and places we build.
“In recent decades some development has acquired a bad name due to shoddy workmanship, at times outright unsafe, and the development of ‘anywhere’ places, which have little relevance or connection to local character.
“Local people [should] set the rules for what developments in their area should look like, ensuring that they reflect and enhance their surroundings and preserve our local character and identity. Instead of developers forcing plans on locals, they will need to adapt to proposals from local people, ensuring that current and new residents alike will benefit from beautiful homes in well-designed neighbourhoods”.
Can you imagine the squirming taking place among our identikit planning officer classes as they receive this edict? Can you see them adapting to proposals from local people? Local character, they will ask, what’s that? Simple, ask the people who pay you!