The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.
Should we all aspire to design codes that built Bath, Belgravia and Bournville? While it is encouraging to see an acknowledgement “there is some brilliant planning and development and there are brilliant planners and developers” in the introduction to the consultation on the White Paper, certainly the overall theme of this paper is that there is not enough focus on good design, less incentive for high quality new homes and places in the existing planning system and in some respects potential has fallen short.
There is criticism around local plans; that these do not provide enough certainty around approved forms of development and just rely on vague and verbal statements of policy rather than visual clarity. The answer seems to be the introduction of a set of clear rules and binding local design codes so that visual quality of areas cannot be negotiated away too readily.
The government wants to provide radical change, shake-up and streamline the planning process and encourage more democracy at the plan making stage with local plans containing clear rules rather than general policies for development. All of this means that local plans can be more focused, shorter in length and contain less rigorous development plan policies. However, this aspiration will surely take some time to achieve especially in radically changing a process that is still suffering a backlog of local plans that are yet to be adopted? Are we simply going to tear up what has been done before ? – that would certainly be reform!
Will making things easier for those who want to build beautifully through the introduction of a fast track system mean that good development will be achieved ? More effort should really be applied to “fast tracking” the process rather than focus on development which is “beautiful”. If this term translates to meaning development in accordance with an approved design code, then this makes sense but if it means more than this then it becomes too subjective.
Whilst it might be useful to establish a new body to support the delivery of design codes in every part of the country, more details are required on how this body would work alongside planning authorities and whether it would just become another layer of complexity.
The planning world recognises that speeding up construction needs to happen. The suggestion that codes for sites might be prepared which would allow substantial development to come forward at the same time i.e. to allow flexibility for development types from different builders across phases is to be welcomed. However, build out rates also reflect local market demand and it is more about making sure that local planning authorities are properly resourced and understand the concepts of different builders to secure faster permissions and construction.
Proposed changes to have a more engaging equitable and effective system and helping people to give views on local plans and design codes more readily through the use of smart phones might be forward thinking but it is not always easy for people to understand what they are being asked to comment on and in reality what can really be achieved as part of a development so it could frustrate and stall development in certain areas. In short having a more tech-based approach to the system may not actually translate into measured improvements and a faster system.
The presumption in favour of certain types of development in renewal areas under Pillar Two may help encourage investment but only for so long as there is enough economic incentive to proceed.
It is admirable that the government acknowledges we want to live and work in better quality environments and that “place making” should remain at the heart of decision making but all of this will come at a cost and just might not produce the desired results. The overall beauty theme might mean certain development becomes a pipe dream, becomes unviable and cannot proceed.