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Scruton review at centre of relaunched housing design code team search

Goldsmith street by mikhail riches with cathy hawley 2
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The government has put findings from Roger Scruton’s ‘beauty review’ at the centre of its proposed design code for new development across the UK

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has relaunched its search for a consultant to draw up the document which will pave the way for a set of tailored regional design codes.

The new contest – open for applications until 5 June – features a revised brief, which places much greater emphasis on responding to recommendations of January’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) report, which called for a planning ‘fast track for beauty’.

The 180-page Living with Beauty report, led by the late academic Roger Scruton and Create Streets founder Nicholas Boys-Smith, made no fewer than 45 policy propositions for how to make beautiful homes ‘the norm’. At its core was a call to embed a national requirement for beauty and place-making through new planning policy and design codes.

Shutterstock scruton

Shutterstock scruton

Source: Shutterstock

Roger Scruton

In light of these ambitions, the team selected to create MHCLG’s illustrated model design code – effectively the final chapter of the National Design Guide published last year – will now be required to draw up innovative ideas for engaging communities in developing local codes which ’reflect local preferences supported by empirical evidence.’

The new brief requires bidders to ‘critically review the scope of the National Model Design Code template against existing domestic design codes at a local and neighbourhood level,’ with tenderers ‘invited to submit additional information or ideas that they consider may be relevant to the requirement including in response to the recommendations of the BBBBC report.’

In a move which could strengthen the code’s power to influence future development, the winning team will also help to determine the future document’s ‘level of prescription, and how it is applied within the planning process’.

Under the new terms, any workshops delivered as part of the contract will also need to be held online in line with Covid-19 social distancing measures. The revised competition also features 40 per cent capability, 40 per cent delivery and 20 per cent cost evaluation criteria, whereas the previous competition weighted deliver and cost equally at 30 per cent.

MHCLG originally started looking for a design team for the nationwide role in mid-March as the country was moving into lockdown but the competition was then scrapped earlier this month after the department ‘identified changes required to the original specification and associated award criteria’.

It is understood several teams which submitted bids for the original contract will tender again for the revised brief.

Richard Simmons, former chief executive of CABE and visiting lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, suggested the broader intention evidenced by the new brief was ‘to move from the current discretionary system to one which is much more black and white’.

He said: ’[This is a] much better brief for the consultants; design codes are a good way to reduce uncertainty for both developers and the public, uncertainty being the principal bane of a discretionary planning system.

‘But producing codes takes resources and skills that are in short supply in the public sector at the moment, which may unbalance the negotiations over the content of codes.’

He asked: ‘Since writing codes is skills and labour-intensive even without involving the public in their development, how many local authorities will have the staff and funds to produce them? This is going to push production of codes onto the developer.

’That may be just in terms of paying for them – they want the privilege of developing in your community. But, if the local authority has nobody with the skills to negotiate a code, how will the public interest be protected?’

The team selected for the estimated £60,000-£80,000 contract will ‘scope and develop’ a new National Model Design Code featuring detailed illustrations providing specific guidance for developers and planners on delivering high-quality and site-specific architecture in consultation with local communities.

The search for a design team follows the publishing of a revised National Planning Policy Framework and Tibbalds’ and the Design Council’s National Design Guide setting out high-level best practice and the terms under which planners could refuse development which fails to improve the character or quality of an area.

MHCLG was given an explicit remit for housing in its title in January 2018. The government’s Fixing our Broken Housing Market white paper set out plans to boost both quality and supply.

The latest search for a team to create the design code comes four months after the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission unveiled its final report, calling for procurement reform and an end to the public sector ‘subsidising ugliness’.

The latest contract will run for six-to-seven months and covers the develop of a highly detailed and illustrated design code, which will serve to update and enhance the existing National Design Guide published late last year.

The built environment design consultancy chosen for the commission will be asked to produce a detailed example demonstrating how the National Model Design Code could be applied in the planning system to create a local code for a typical large-scale development.

The new deadline for applications is 5 June.

How to apply

View the contract notice for more information

Contact details

Michael Adu
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street

Email: michael.adu@communities.gov.uk

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Clare Richards

    This will be a crucial appointment because the local design codes and 'stewardship' model proposed by the BBBBC present a real opportunity to ensure proper and consistent community engagement – in devising local plans and in development proposals. Only seriously committed and suitably qualified teams need apply!

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