Most of the best design codes in the UK have been drawn up for sites. Typically a masterplan is developed and the code regulates how the plan should be built out. Sometimes it is implemented through an outline planning consent, but the effective ones tend to be imposed by the landowner. As I wrote in my book Climax City these types of code-based masterplans have a very long history.
Those of us who produce these site-based codes agree that they need to be specific, measurable, verifiable and, where possible, their rules should be numeric or have “yes/no” answers. The disagreement, in as much as it exists, is over the level of detail. There is one school of thought that seeks to control everything down to the elevational treatments allowable on each street. The other school, which I tend to subscribe to, is that codes should contain rather fewer rules but that these should create a fixed frame into which development can take place without controlling the detail.
The design codes that have been developed by local authorities for existing urban areas tend to be very different and in truth most of them are design guides rather than codes. They contain aspirations and guidance and their language tends towards the “should seek to” rather than the “should” or “will”. Because they need to deal with so many different urban conditions they are not able to be as specific and, while they are very valuable in giving weight to good design, their impact is less certain.
The national model design code (which of course is not a code at all but a guide to writing codes) seeks to bridge this gap. It adapts the structures and techniques of a site-based code for application across a wider area. In a site-based code the masterplan sets out a hierarchy of streets and establishes a series of character areas. The rules for any particular plot depend on which type of street it is on, and which character area it sits within.
In the national model design code we use the term “area type” rather than “character area” but the approach is essentially the same. The areas covered by a code (which may not be the whole district) are allocated to one of a number of area types, and the existing street hierarchy is mapped. For new sites the area types and street hierarchy are determined through a masterplanning exercise. Once established the area types and street hierarchy will mean that the rules and guidance applicable to each plot will be crystal clear.
That, at least, is the theory. The practice is likely to be more complicated as I’m sure we will find out once MHCLG finds local authorities to pilot the code. There will be places where the existing character is so diverse that it will be difficult to establish area types. There will be other places where local circumstances demand exceptions to the rules. Most important, under our discretionary planning system we don’t really have “rules”, as such. Planners in the UK do not have the powers to get developers to follow the rules as they would have no choice but to do in the French planning system, for example.
Some might say that discretionary is the better part of valour, and that the negotiated nature of the British planning system is one of its strengths. The approach to coding that we have suggested accepts this. We may not be able to impose codes in the way that other systems do but we can give ammunition to planners in their negotiations and mandate a much more design-led approach.
Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The 72 UK towns. By the way you could pay for 60 of these (including in Bradford) by scrapping the crazy 6 billion NPR tunnel under Bradford
Soon we will see consultation on the Arc. The reactions are predictable. How big a blob, how many homes, only a few will use the railway station, what about outside its walkable catchment, if large wont then it be car dependent sprawl?
These are good questions. Will a big blob be like Milton Keynes or be like central Oxford, or Toledo, or wherever?
Planning for the first 15 minutes outside a station old or new in theoretical terms is easy. We have well established typologies at a range of densities showing how that community can be developed in a broadly zero carbon way. I have discussed this on this blog many times. You can imagine a grid of ‘hex bins’ hexagons of 400 in radius.
However there will be few such locations in any area – such as the Arc. The problem is how you develop the hexagon outside the first 15 minute neighbourhood, then the next one. The problem is how you get sustainable development at scale. Indeed I have mapped and studied the whole if the Arc, and several other places internationally using such a technique called ‘planagon planet’ its aim is to investigate options for making global rapid urbanisation sustinable and studyng options to do so.
For a rail corridor you have several options. You can place stops regularly, giving it a metro service. The problem then is you slow fast through traffic, which can demand a four track rather than two track solution. Though the marginal cost of the land acquisition for the extra two tracks is small. You need a metro service however as without a large ridership you don’t get frequent services, and without frequent services you dont achieve a high enough transit mobile split to achieve zero carbon. I remember discussing a ‘turbostar’ model I developed for the Arc with the NIC showing you only got a 30% + mobile split if you had service frequencies of less than 3 minutes a Japanese style digitally signals managed service. I was stunned by the answer that this was planned. This isnt really practical however unless you have a string of closed packed stations with development around them.
Another (complemnetary) option is to have rapid feeder services feeding into to stations – via BRT. This you have to do outside the linear clusters, having development of a density and amount to form a whole town of several planagons not just a single ‘planagon’ of development. You can then use this method to test out various scales and densities of development and how they are distributed around transit nodes and corridors.
Hence it is wise not to talk of blobs and ‘sytrategic locations’ but of places and the patterns of development they should form. Once you have a broad vision of the kind of place and the kind of pattern, only then can you go on to dicuss where they should be pinned on the strategic map.
After discussing the good practice of the West Somerset Options Paper I was grateful being sent Blaby which is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is what I call a ‘scattergun’ consultation, which is where they thrown all the call for sites on a map and say ‘what do you think’ rather than structuring them into discrete 4 or so options.
This never ends well – think of Uttlesford, Greater Exeter etc. It gives the impression to the public of being developer led, creating opposition that leads to the whole process being derailed with no plan b to fall back on. Worse it makes it almost impossible to shape carbon zero communities and associated transport improvements.
Leicestershire is crying out for a more strategic approach. They went for a non statutory approach which strips out housing. But housing is what matters. Leicester is growing quickly, new ONS methods have raised migration assumptions, Leicester is a plus 35% authority. Even before underbounded Leicester was struggling to meet its own needs, proposing to build on every park for example (yes you read that right in London that would be front page news).
By default then what we have seen in development plans is development of an M1 growth corridor (yes you heard that right) with strategic sites scattered along the M1, in some cases bridging it to get access.
The sites south west of Leicster (towards Blaby) are of three types
-Sites close to the Leicster Principal Urban Area (along M1)
-Sites close to towns within the extended principal urban area (like Blaby)
-Strategic Sites to the South of Blaby
-More scattered sites
Its not hard. Startegic sites in scattered locations cannot be sustainable. Adjoining smaller sites can combine to a strategic site. Sites close the PUA adjoin strategic employment locations where there has been major growth in logistics and are best mainly for such use plus housing in appropriate locations. This leaves reasonable options in terms of combinations of strategic sites and other well connected sites. A couple of sites could take strategic sites and new railway stations. These could also serve towns in the extended urban area that lost their stations 50 years ago. There is also potential to create a BRT route south t growth locations at Lutterworth on the former great central railway corridor. The overall strategy for Leicestershire should be to concentrate development to its west – the growth area, and away from the much more rural and landscape sensitive east which has terrible road access and a congested A6 single carriageway in large sections. To the West there is the closing Shipton on Stour power Station (in adjoining Hinkley and Bosworth) which could be a Garden Community and HS2 stop, connected on a restored chord to Leicester. Without a strategic approach there is no sound way of determining ho much Leicester overspill goes to Blaby – what is the reasonable alternative you have consulted on if the alternatives are in other authorities.
Mobility Hubs are popping up in a lot of reports recently. They are an innovation from Germany, Belgium and Austria
Rather than going into length how they work and how they are designed here is an excellent Interreg report
A mobility hub is a recognisable place with an offer of different and connected transport modes supplemented with enhanced facilities and information features to both attractand benefit the traveller.
Mobility hubs will generally, but not necessarily, be situated at significant points on major public transport corridors as they form a critical element in supporting the role of highfrequency public transport within cities and large towns. Mobility hubs have three key characteristics: • Co-location of public and shared mobility modes, • The redesign of space to reduce private car space and improve the surrounding public realm, • A pillar or sign which identifies the space as mobility hub which is part of a wider network and ideally provides digital travel information.
I think there is a slight difference in philosophy between the Germanic world and say Denmark or the Netherlands. The former think if you have sustainable transport it has to be ORGANISED. The Latter think if you have sustainable transport it has to be EVERYWHERE. Not necessarily incompatible, you have to start somewhere, transit interchanges are a good place to start and from then onwards to the last mile/15 mins.
The Grasslands Trust team blog about nature conservation and broader environmental issues, always with a focus on our threatened grassland habitats. The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Trust.