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The revised NPPF and design: Quality from start to finish

To start with a quote from the 2012 NPPF, “good design is indivisible from good planning.” To my mind, as a Chartered Town Planner and practising Urban Designer, never have truer words been said.

Indeed the promotion and, importantly, delivery of design qualities is dependent on having a robust policy foundation at both a national and local level, and is the reason why the NPPF is so pivotal in setting high design standards.

Fast forward 6 years and we now have the revised NPPF. In March 2018, following the release of the draft revision of the NPPF, we stated our enthusiasm that promoting high standards of design and qualities was still a key narrative running through the policy. Yes, we lost reference to Garden Villages within the revised draft, the chapter relating to good design appeared to be relegated from Chapter 7 to Chapter 12, and my favourite quote appeared to be resigned to the history books. However, considering the changing political context compared to 2012, and the plethora of planning litigation which needs to be considered, change was always likely.

The changes seem to have continued and from a design perspective they are encouraging.

Firstly, Garden Villages are back! However, more importantly, Chapter 12 ‘Achieving well-designed places’ still includes the six leading principles which define good design, well in a policy context at least. The chapter also still includes a narrative of the role good design plays in creating sustainable places. Interestingly however, it also now includes further emphasis on the role tools such as Design Review Panels, Community Engagement, Design Workshops and Building for Life 12 play in the design evolution process as well as adding further emphasis on the need to manage "value engineering” and the erosion of design qualities at the delivery stage.

“Local planning authorities should seek to ensure that the quality of approved development is not materially diminished between permission and completion, as a result of changes being made to the permitted scheme.” (Para 130, NPPF, 2018)

Whilst these changes may appear minor in nature, they send what I see to be a very clear message. They emphasise the Government’s view on the importance of managing and promoting high design standards at the earliest opportunity as well as the need to ensure such qualities are delivered on the ground.  In doing so, it reiterates the need to ensure design is not an optional add-on to gain an approval, but it is instead a discussion which needs to take place throughout the design evolution process to the point of delivery – quality from start to finish.

Whilst the policy does not answer how this should be done, especially in the age of austerity with local authorities appearing to have access to ever fewer resources, it would therefore appear the onus will be on the developer. The need for creativity has therefore never been so important, both in the way we engage with local authorities and communities with regard to design, but also the ways in which we find realistic and deliverable solutions without compromising on design and quality.

If you would like to know more about the revised NPPF and design, please contact Neil Woodhouse or Stephen Taylor.

2 August 2018

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