The New Nation Model Design Code is out, with Associated Guidance and accompanying NPPF revisions, mostly, but not entirely, relating to implementing the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
Overall its a very good document, 8 out of 10, URBED and David Rudlin have done a very good job. It certainly meets the brief of the Commission to be ‘Design guidance relying on numbers, specifications and images
more than words.’ It certainly is a better document than the pre-commission National Design Guide which I have been very critical of. It would be better to withdraw the National Design Guide and have the Code Guidance fully replace it. I note the commission were also critical of aspects of the guide It sets out the characteristics of well designed places but not how to plan for and design them. This the guidance notes succeeds very well at. It were better that the design guide was edited down and simply set out national design objectives (or outcome) as an introduction to the new guidance.
Lets start with the big one the NPPF changes, the biggest bar far relates to plan making.
Plans and decisions should apply a presumption in favour of sustainable
For plan-making this means that:
a) all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects;
plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area, and be sufficiently flexible to adapt
to rapid change;
This is the most important change to national policy since the introduction of the NPPF in referring to ‘a sustainable pattern of development’ a massive ommission and from the ministers definition of the objective of planning from to the MHLG select committee. . It would be far better if it referred to a sustainable pattern and form of development. ‘ as we are not just seeking a good pattern of any old development. ‘Promote’ is too weak. It implies plans are merely promotional brochures. ‘Programme’ would be better. ‘Programme to achieve’ even better as that implies flexibility and adaptation to set backs. It also implies a PMO approach to plan making and implementation.
‘Mitigate’ is too weak. It implies any mitigation is acceptable. After all this is an emergency with national and international obligtions. This really needs a footnote to explain what mitigate means such as:
‘Mitigate climate change’ means planning policy which meets the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Climate Agreement and meeting the legal obligation of section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero levels by 2050 (1990 base), section 8 of the aforesaid act (duty to have regard to mitigation and adaptation); as well as the Prime Ministers Commitment of 4th Dec 2020 to achieve ambitious target to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030 (1990 base). Mitigation measures should meet any departmental and sectoral targets to be announced in policy and accompanying guidance. In the interim, application of the duties of the 2008 Act should be read in line with the judgement of the Supreme Court in R (o.t.a Friends of the Earth et al) v. Heathrow Airport Ltd  UKSC 52 ‘
Future government guidance should show how this target can be met in terms of location of new development, trip reduction and modal shifting, utilizing a structure such as the new RTPI North, City Science report.
If we are in an age of zero carbon planning however why not update the section on energy minerals. Today it seems archaic.
Another key change is in para 22.
Where larger scale development such as new settlements form part of the strategy for the area,
policies should be set within a vision that looks further ahead (at least 30 years), to
take into account the likely timescale for delivery.
This fills a key gap. Many new settlements start producing in numbers at the end of a plan period and deal with long term needs (especially for overspill) . Desperate to have a stop gap 5 years supply some inspectors (North Essex) read prior policy to anally and said what is the need?
There is a very odd section on Article 4 directions reminiscent of dogmatic circulars of the 1980s
The use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights
• where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations
where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts
• [or as an alternative to the above – where they relate to change of use to
residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect
an interest of national significance]
• where they do not relate to change of use to residential, be limited to
situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being
of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require
planning permission for the demolition of local facilities)
• in all cases apply to the smallest geographical area possible
The smallest geographical area possible is the Plank Scale 1.616255×10⁻³⁵ m. It should add ‘to acheive the above objectives’.
On design there are two key new sections. One replacing the para on design guidance/SPG.
To provide maximum clarity about design expectations at an early stage, all
local planning authorities should prepare design guides or codes consistent with
the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design
Code and which reflect local character and design preferences. These provide a
local framework for creating beautiful and distinctive places with a consistent and
high quality standard of design. Their level of detail and degree of prescription
should be tailored to the circumstances and scale of change in each place,
and should allow a suitable degree of variety where this would be justified.
New Para 128 sets out their status.
Design guides and codes can be prepared at an area-wide or site-specific scale,
and to carry weight in decision-making should be produced either as part of a plan
or as supplementary planning documents (although applicants may also elect to
prepare codes for sites which they propose to develop). All guides and codes
should be based on effective community engagement and reflect local aspirations
for the development of their area, taking into account the guidance contained in the
National Design Guide and the National Model Design Code. These national
documents should be used to guide decisions on applications in the absence
of locally-produced guides or codes.
There is a replacement para on the national design test – 133.
Development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it
fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking
into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents
which use visual tools such as design guides and codes. Conversely, significant
weight should be given to:
a) development which reflects local design policies and government guidance
on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary
planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and
b) outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of
sustainability,, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an
area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their
Worrying is the ommission of ‘to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions’ which the commission recommended stayed.
Now in the absence of design codes there is no expectation of what good design is, the character of the area and improving the area. A major ommission.
‘Outstanding or innovative’ the commission recommended deleting ‘innovative’ which was added by a previous government because too many ‘Gummer rule’ houses were bad taste classical derivatives with no innovation. Oddly the Gummer test used to say outstanding and innovative but the Traditional Architecture Group campaigned against it. The ministry has got itself in a twist here in that the gummer test para on isolated housing (para 80e) now proposes to delete ‘or innovative’ a ridiculous test, you could propose a complete copy of a Palladian villa completely stripped of its context and the presumption would apply on any non green belt site in open countryside. The legacy of Scruton must not be promotion of pseudo vernacular crap only for billionaires. The RTPI and RIBA must really get on top of this. It should be ‘Outstanding and Innovative’ in both paras. with guidance explaining how traditional (including classical) designs can be outstanding and innovative in their response to the site and modern challenges. Simple repition of previous designs not being sufficient in the open countryside.
There is a very measured new para. on removal of statues etc.
In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque or memorial (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of retaining these heritage assets and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.
In part II ill look at the model code and guidance.