Moving towards the beauty and placemaking endgame

How two new and revised policies may influence development

The National Model Design Code (NMDC) and revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) have been released. We hear from Stuart Choak, Managing Director and Head of Transport Planning at Calibro, as we review the implications of the new policies and what they may mean to the way we approach new development in England.

July has certainly been a busy month for new policy releases. Having just reviewed the changes in Planning Policy Guidance and the implications on flood risk modelling, the NMDC and revisions to the NPPF were released on the same day.

The influence of beauty and placemaking

Both documents build on the 2019 National Design Guide and demonstrate the Government’s clear commitment to making beauty and placemaking a central theme in national policy, and housing delivery.

“This is an agenda Calibro has been advocating for some time,” Stuart comments, “and one which we believe not only sits comfortably alongside the normal commercial focus of development, but which is crucial in creating new and long lasting communities.”

An updated focus on design

While not a completely new document (having first been published in 2012), the NPPF has been revised to implement policy changes in response to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission “Living with Beauty” report and provides a greater focus on design than ever.

“It’s pleasing to see at Paragraph 110 the need for the design of streets, parking areas and other transport elements to reflect current national guidance, including the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code,” Stuart highlights from the revisions. “For so long, parts of the industry have been too focused on the functionality of streets and their adjoining spaces – ignoring the potential they have to support the character and identity of place.”

This increased integration with landscape is raised again in Paragraph 131, which requires new streets to be tree lined unless there are clear and compelling reasons why this would be inappropriate (we assume primarily from a design context).

The NPPF (169) re-iterates the importance of providing Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) and the desire for them to provide multifunctional benefits. When given due consideration, these systems can lead to design solutions that work hard for developments: not only being functional, but also promoting healthy living, landscape and ecological benefits.

Building on the case for integration

For Calibro, this provides further justification for our consultancy’s focus on bringing together our expert flood risk, drainage, highway and infrastructure experts. Doing this promotes opportunities to design innovative drainage solutions with the ability to support enhanced green infrastructure; importantly taking into account the requirements of adoption.

The value of design is also reflected in an updated definition of the ‘social objective’ of sustainability. This now includes the fostering of ‘well designed, beautiful and safe places’, which we consider fundamental principles of community building.

Creating a National Design Code

Released alongside and in support of the NPPF, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) released the National Design Code on 20 July 2021. This sets out new standards of beauty, quality and design for all new developments.

In this context, local design guides and codes will be informed by the new guidance; or will be used in place of such local guidance where they are not available. It places local communities at the heart of new proposals, to ensure that their sense of identity is strengthened by opportunities to reflect the history and unique character of the area, and to ensure a beautiful and well designed development follows.

Using flexibility to innovate

Supportive of the design process, the Code places great emphasis on Manual for Streets and Manual for Streets 2, which continue to represent good practice for street design. Both documents advocate less standardised approaches to street design by identifying a basic framework to protect functionality of these movement corridors, while offering flexibility to avoid sterile ‘highway’ zones that often work contrary to place making and promotion of active travel.

Building with courtyard with silhouettes of people walking past

“We also welcome the Design Code’s flexible approach to living with water,” Stuart responds positively. At paragraph 97 it speaks of the ability for development to be adaptable to flood conditions through, for example, creating terraced open spaces where lower levels may become a water feature. “This is an approach we’re already taking on several of our strategic developments,” Stuart comments.

Core to our beliefs at Calibro, we absolutely endorse the Design Code’s statement that ‘well designed development [must] include site specific enhancements to achieve biodiversity net gains and neighbourhood, street and household level’.  Stuart explains: “We are working hard on many of our schemes to integrate green and blue infrastructure to create multi-use areas that not only deliver biodiversity net gain, but also help to minimise land-take from development.”

A shift in focus for all forms of flood risk

A core principle of NPPF is to take a sequential, risk based approach to the placement of development with regard to flooding. The revised NPPF expands the criteria for both the sequential approach and the sequential test to include all sources of flood risk, rather than just fluvial and tidal flood risks.

This could have far reaching implications for the derivation of local plans and for the assessment of individual planning applications. Stuart adds: “At this stage, there is no guidance on how the sequential approach and sequential test should be applied for other forms of flooding. Also, there are no national datasets that would allow the consideration of groundwater, sewer or reservoir flooding on a like-for-like basis.”

As these matters fall under the remit of the Local Planning Authorities, there may not be a consistent national approach, at least in the short term – but it is expected that the trend towards more detailed assessment of surface water flood risk will continue.

Stuart summarises: “Regardless of the specifics of implementation, it is clear that a proactive and collaborative approach with LPAs will be necessary to derive appropriate development strategies and minimise the risk to securing approval.”

Look ahead with Calibro

Our team offers the insight and detailed knowledge to help ensure your development ambitions reflect the opportunities that come out of new policies and framework enhancements. Our blog section is updated to give you the latest on policies and help you stay a step ahead.