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'Proactive' NPPF recommendations welcomed by architects

Architects have welcomed the ‘proactive’ design policy set out in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was published last week

Heralded by Home Builders Federation chairman Stewart Baseley as the ‘most important planning document since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947’, the paper, drafted by an independent advisory group of experts, outlines a simplified planning strategy, which will inform future plans at both city and neighbourhood level.

It places unprecedented emphasis on ‘good quality design’, urging local planning authorities not to ‘impose architectural styles or particular tastes’ and demands that design policies avoid ‘unnecessary prescription or detail’. It also recommends that councils refuse schemes of ‘obviously poor design’.

Design Council CABE chairman Paul Finch said the proposal offered a ‘pluralist approach, which welcomes both innovations and appropriate conservation’.

RIBA Planning Group chair-man Philip Singleton said the draft was clearly the result of ‘good lobbying’. He added: ‘It’s a great message to the profession. Design is now on the agenda. The question is how to determine at local level what is good architecture and what is poor design.’

Jonathan Brown of Urbed said he was ‘broadly encouraged’ by the focus on design but warned the policy could allow mediocre projects through. He said: ‘It all depends on the knowledge and awareness of officers.’

The government’s official draft of the NPPF will be made public in July, when it goes out to public consultation.

PPS7 clause

The country house clause, currently known as PPS7 Clause 11, has unexpectedly been widened in the draft NPPF, a move which could pave the way for more green belt homes.

The policy on rural homes was expected to be scrapped as part of the government’s plans to streamline the planning system (AJ 10.03.11).

In the outline new clause, the word ‘innovative’ has replaced the tougher-to-fulfil ‘ground-breaking’ in the original text and the phrase ‘contemporary’ dropped altogether. According to planning expert Peter Stewart of Peter Stewart Consultancy, the suggested phrasing in the NPPF blueprint could boost levels of applications for planning permission in rural areas.

He explained: ‘The “or” in “exceptional quality or the innovative nature” is a significant change. Before you had to be both “truly outstanding” and “ground-breaking”.’

Robert Adam of ADAM Architecture added: ‘This is very positive. The change from “and” to “or” is important, as is the omission of “ground-breaking” and “contemporary”.’

Dan Stainer-Hutchins, of DSH Architects said: ‘There are maybe 200 or so PPS7 applications across the UK on average in any year, of which only five or six get approved. [This reform] should help open up the issue to a wider range of participants.’

 

Summary

NPPF ON PLANNING Local planning authorities should ensure developments: are sustainable, durable and adaptable; add to the overall character and quality of the area; optimise the potential of the site; respond to their local context and are visually attractive as a result of good architecture.

NPPF ON STYLE Good design is indivisible from good planning. Design policies should avoid unnecessary prescription or detail. Local planning authorities should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes.

NPPF ON POOR DESIGN Local planning authorities should refuse permission for development of obviously poor design. Where design of a particularly high quality is proposed, including innovative design, local authorities should encourage its development.

NPPF ON RURAL HOMES Isolated rural homes should be avoided unless there are special circumstances such as the exceptional quality or the innovative nature of the design. This should be truly outstanding or innovative, helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas; reflect the highest standards in architecture; significantly enhance its immediate setting; and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.

Comment on the draft National Planning Policy Framework from John Webster of AWW

Positive aspects:

  1. It recognises the importance of local  requirements within the planning process and thus gives them real credibility;
  2. it encourages the use of physical plans at the neighbour-hood level - Town Design Statements have helped in the past and should be encouraged as the basis of these Local Plans
  3. it will  link these locally consulted plans with National Planning Policy hopefully through the  Local Development Framework;
  4. mixed-use is recognised as a vital element of the urban fabric which I believe will  chime with the needs of developers and traders;
  5. the new role of Development Management is welcome but does need to be fulfilled by the right kind of person…experienced realists with development backgrounds not planning officers developing their careers; and
  6. the avoidance of third party appeals is welcome

Areas of concern are:

  1. As noted by the RTPI the NPPF needs to be given teeth by being subsumed into the Localism Bill ;
  2. the local plans need to be  adopted as part of the Local Development Framework;
  3. design standards need to be upheld by Design Review Panels as promoted so successfully by CABE – their influence over the past ten years or so has raised the bar very considerably and this must not be allowed to fall;
  4. there will  be a lack of resources to enable the local plans to be prepared so imaginative partnerships between the Public and Private sectors will need to be forged; and
  5.  the plan making process should be fast and effective in areas of potential economic growth so planning authorities that are slow must be penalised.

 

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