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  • Writer's pictureRaj Rooprai

Living with Beauty

Final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission

The report proposes a planning and development framework which will 

· Ask for Beauty

· Refuse Ugliness

· Promote Stewardship

It offers:

Beauty at three scales

Beautifully placed (sustainable settlement patterns  sitting in the landscape)

Beautiful places (streets, squares and parks, the "spirit of place")

Beautiful buildings (windows, materials,  proportion, space)

8 priorities for reform under the themes of

Planning, Neighbourhoods, Regeneration, Communities, Management, Education, Stewardship, Nature.

44 policy propositions

Priorities for Reform:

Planning: create a predictable level playing field – Beautiful place making should be a legally required aim of the planning system, reflected in the NPPF, and local plans.  Schemes should be turned down for being too ugly and such rejections should be publicised.  The planning system needs to become more predictable, and more accessible to a wider range of firms, organisations and individuals to enable them to enter the development market.  Planning rules should be enforced.

Communities: bring the democracy forward – the local plan process should be more democratic, with local people strongly involved; plans should be more visual, and easy for the public to understand.  Attractiveness should be a primary consideration.

Stewardship: incentive's responsibility to the future. – address the short-term profit focus of the development industry. Change the legal and tax systems to encourage long-term stewardship; introduce a ‘stewardship kite mark’ which can end tax disincentives to a long-term approach and possibly give access to longer term finance.

Regeneration: end the scandal of ‘left-behind’ places.   Ensure development contributes to places rather than parasites.   Government should go beyond investing in in roads or shiny ‘big box’ infrastructure.   In central government a member of the Cabinet should have responsibility for ensuring and coordinating standards in housing, nature and infrastructure.  Each council should have a Chief Place maker as a senior member of the officer team, and a cabinet member with responsibility for place making.  VAT on new building and refurbishment should be aligned.

Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses.  Create mixed-use “real place” development with gentle density – (eg 5 stories) and streets, squares and blocks with clear backs and fronts.  Permit intensification where there is public consent.

Nature: re-green our towns and cities.  Plant 2 million street trees within 5 years; a fruit tree for every home.  The NPPF should place a greater focus on access to nature and green spaces.   Green spaces, waterways and wildlife habitats should be seen as integral to the urban fabric

Education and skills: promote a wider understanding of place making.  Invest in the education of professionals and councillors. Crucial areas include place making, the history of architecture and design, popular preferences and (above all) the associations of urban form and design with well-being and health.  Consider alternative pathways into architecture.

Management: value planning, count happiness, procure properly.  To make the planning system more efficient, introduce a more rules-based approach, move the democracy forward, have clearer form-based codes, and limits to the length of planning applications; digitise and automate.    Moderate permitted development rights with quality standards.  Change the corporate performance targets for Homes England, and the highways, housing and planning teams in central government and councils - objective measures for well-being, public health, nature recovery and beauty (measured inter alia via popular support). Measure quality and outcomes as well as quantity.

But this falls short of an acceptance of the need to address deep-rooted problems in land-use and transport planning and highway design, that are making a mockery of the NPPF objective of sustainable development.  Issues include:

Breach of statutory duty on climate change – Client Earth has 100 English planning authorities on notice of judicial review

Unsustainable location and strategic urban design - RTPI surveys and reports by Transport for New Homes highlight the failure of the planning system to ensure that new housing is built near transport nodes, or with realistic alternatives to car ownership and use.  The result is high energy dependency, and high carbon emissions.

Disregard of NPPF - Last week’s UCL-Place Alliance Survey concluded that 75 percent of the housing developments assessed should not have been given planning permission.

Disregard of Government street design guidance - The UDG’s own survey on Street Design concluded that around 80 percent of highway authorities were still using street design standards based on withdrawn and discredited 1960s practice, now made unlawful following the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Lack of Skills - The UDG funded UCL urban design skills survey which found widespread shortages in local authorities.  A planning system and good design requires people to do it.  Officers need to be up to speed; councillors and cabinet portfolio holders need to have been briefed on current best practice, and know what is reasonable to demand of designers and developers. 

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