Why a National Design Code is a Very Bad Idea

Design codes are great. But the concept of a national design code as promulgated by the government is a contadiction in terms.

No other country uses the term ‘design code’, it only arose because the UK was trying to catch up to the rest of the world with a discretionary planning system that fares badly at regulating quality and now the rest of the world has moved on.

Take the definition.

a system whereby land owners establish the key components of the design of new developments up front and, through legal requirement, then require abidance by any developers subsequently wanting to build
in the area covered by the code.

Note the limitation – the intent of land owners. Urban coding arose from the work of pioneers of CNU such as Andreas Duany at places like Seaside to masterplan in 3d and push against many of the sprawl based zoning rules that demanded large lots, separation of uses and wide roads.

Since then the movement has moved on. Rather than being promoted by land owners form based codes are promoted by municipalities as part of the zoning code. Why cant we keep up with the language and thinking.

The second reason why a national design code is a bad idea is that on large sites the design codes flows from the illustrative 3d masterplan. You arn’t talking about plot level typologies fitting into adjoining existing lots.

Unless you have a national masterplan you cant have a national design code.

The government doesn’t seem to understand what nation it is planning for. The National Design Guide doesn’t use the term England once (or even explain what nation it is planning for) or once explain the evolution, origin and diversity of English development norms.

Any masterplan or code must respond to context in terms of settlement patterns, building materials and local vernacular. I suspect there will just be a few woolly words about local character. This is not good enough, A code is a rule not ‘guidance’ . If all it says is look nice and traditional without any analysis of geographical patterns of form it will be as worthless as a badly written neighbourhood plan design policy.

No other country has attempted such a silly endaeovour as a national design code. Their is a reason for this.

If it was to perform any useful function at all it would codify and replace technical standards in MFS 1 and 2 and incorporate the very latest thinking from the CROW cycling design guide. Their has been no technical group to do this.

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