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Ministry issues revised National Planning Policy Framework, establishes Office for Place

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has issued a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework and a new National Design Code.

The Government has announced plans to establish the Office for Place within the MHCLG, advised by a board led by Nicholas Boys Smith, who will look to help local authorities across England create user-friendly but effective design codes for their communities.

Fourteen councils across England are now testing this new approach and the Government will undertake further pilots over the course of the year.

The Government’s response to the consultation on the revised NPPF and the new National Design Code can be viewed here.

In a written ministerial statement, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “The Government has set out to put beauty and design, for the first time, at the heart of the local planning system. To that end, we are changing the system so that local people are empowered to set standards for beauty and design in their area through local design codes. These codes will reflect their area’s unique aesthetics, culture and heritage, with tree lined streets accompanying new developments.

“The new Framework is fundamental to ensuring local authorities and communities can shape and deliver beautiful places to live and work, with a greater emphasis on quality, design and the environment than ever before.”

The minister said the changes the Government had made took forward the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission that national policy should place a stronger focus on the creation of beautiful buildings and beautiful places.

“The Framework will ensure that communities are more meaningfully engaged in how new development happens, that local authorities are given greater confidence in turning down schemes which do not meet locally set standards, and greater certainty to those schemes that do,” he said.

“This is part of the Government’s programme of improving the planning system to put high quality, environmentally friendly design front and centre of new development.”

Jenrick said the changes would:

  • Make beauty and place-making a strategic theme in the Framework
  • Set out the expectation that local authorities produce their own design codes and guides setting out design principles which new development in their areas should reflect
  • Ask for new streets to be tree-lined
  • Improve biodiversity and access to nature through design
  • Put an emphasis on approving good design as well as refusing poor quality schemes

The Secretary of State added that the Government had also made a number of environment-related changes, including on flood risk and climate change. “These changes are an initial response to the emergent findings of our joint review with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of policy for building in areas of flood risk. For instance, highlighting the opportunities from improvements in green infrastructure and natural flood management techniques.”

The Government is also amending guidance on flood risk to emphasise that checks done by local authorities should steer new development to areas with the lowest risk of flooding from any source.

Other changes include:

  • emphasis of the importance of retaining and explaining the historic and social context of historic statues, plaques, memorials or monuments rather than removing them
  • an update on the use of Article 4 Directions
  • an expectation that local planning authorities take a proactive approach to engaging with key delivery bodies and other stakeholders at the pre-application stage of local plan making

The National Model Design Code is to expand on the ten characteristics of good design set out in the National Design Guide, which reflects the Government’s priorities and provides a common overarching framework for design. The Code forms part of the Government’s planning practice guidance.

Jenrick said: “Creating more beautiful places requires a greener approach that supports progress towards our 25-year environment plan goals. The National Model Design Code sets a baseline standard of quality and practice which local planning authorities are expected to take into account, including the approach to landscape, green infrastructure, biodiversity and tree lined streets.

“The National Model Design Code should be used as a toolkit to guide local planning authorities on the design parameters and issues that need to be considered when producing design codes and guides. It also sets out methods to capture and reflect the views of the local community from the outset, and at each stage in the process.”

Responding to the written ministerial statement, Cllr David Renard, Housing Spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Councils have constantly delivered throughout the pandemic and are key to helping the Government build back locally as we all recover from it. This includes delivering the high-quality affordable housing we desperately need, built in the right places and supported by the right infrastructure. We also support innovative design to achieve climate-friendly homes and to improve the quality of homes and places.

“Design tools can be helpful, but decisions about the design of planning need to be locally-led and are best made by local councils together with their communities. As the Government’s National Design Guide advises, any specific details and measurable criteria for good design is most appropriately set out at a local level. The requirement for councils to have a local design code will also require additional resources and skills, so it will be important that councils are fully funded and supported to provide the extra capacity needed.

“We would also like to see the Office for Place body include local government representation, so it can benefit from the expertise and knowledge from a local level.”