Delivering Beautiful Development Through The Updated NPPF
Planning | Blog
On 19 December 2023, the latest revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published, but what does it mean for delivering new developments from a design perspective? The most notable changes concern clarity of communication, density, character and further emphasis on beauty.
How can Beauty be Built into Development?
The proliferation of references to beauty can be attributed to the creation of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (BBBB) and the publication of their report ‘Living with Beauty’ in 2020. The report received a mixed reaction, wiBe some heralding it as a long-overdue aspirational call to arms for high-quality design; while others were uncomfortable with it, feeling it was unrealistic and naive.
Either way, the BBBB Commission and the ‘Living with Beauty’ report made an impact. It was the reference to ‘Beautiful’ that made some uncomfortable – how can beauty, something so subjective, be measured?
Image: Living with Beauty, Page 10
The ‘Living with Beauty’ report went some way to explaining what was meant by beauty, including reference to ‘Beautifully Placed [development]’, ‘Beautiful Places’ and ‘Beautiful Buildings’. The references to beauty here could be replaced with ‘well-designed’. Well-designed developments, well-designed places and well-designed buildings; which means that talented master planners, urban designers and architects are needed respectively to ensure the high-quality delivery of design at each of these scales.
Fast-forward to December 2023 and Chapter 12 within the updated NPPF has been renamed to include “Beautiful” alongside “Well-Designed” places. This further emphasis on beauty continues throughout the NPPF. Strategic policy 20 now includes “to ensure outcomes support beauty and placemaking”.
This will include “beautiful new buildings” in rural areas (Para. 88), “beautiful buildings” will be required from planning policies and decisions (Para. 96) and no longer are “attractive” routes needed through developments, instead “beautiful” routes are necessary (Para. 96 (b)).
Out of Character or Densification – Still room for Ambiguity?
Following on from the requirement for beauty, this is further captured within the ‘Achieving Appropriate Densities’ section of the NPPF. The requirement for beauty has found its way into Para. 128, “the importance of securing well-designed AND BEAUTIFUL, attractive and healthy places”. The other key change in terms of character and density is the addition of Para. 130:
“…significant uplifts in the average density of residential development may be inappropriate if the resulting built form would be wholly out of character with the existing area. Such circumstances should be evidenced through an authority-wide design code which is adopted or will be adopted as part of the development plan.” (Para. 130)
Initially, it appears that the updated NPPF now provides greater opportunity for the refusal of proposed developments where they are at a higher density than the local context. However, the policy is that the proposals must be ‘wholly’ out of character with the existing area and this will be particularly difficult to demonstrate, especially where the local area is of a mixed character.
Likewise, Para. 138 requires that local planning authorities make use of local design codes to improve the design of development in-line with the National Model Design Code, in addition to engagement workshops and Building for a Healthy Life.
The result of this is that it will be essential that design proposals follow a robust design development process, engaging with the local authority and community where and when appropriate. It will be essential that robust local character and context analysis is undertaken. It should be clear how the design proposals are compliant with local design codes, and so the production of a design code compliance document and/or Building for a Healthy Life assessment may be appropriate.
The Industry has Clear Guidance to move Forward
The requirement for the increase in the design quality (and beauty) of proposals is clear. Aligned with this is now a clear requirement that all submitted plans and drawings are “clear and accurate” (Para. 140). While any submitted plans and drawings should always have been clear and comprehensible, it is now possible that we will see references to Para. 140 and unclear or inaccurate plans listed within reasons for refusal.
This reinforces the necessity for a robust design development process, a responsive design proposal to the local context as part of a submission that is clearly and accurately communicated.
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