"Our standards of design can be so much higher. We are a nation renowned worldwide for creative excellence, yet, at home confidence in development itself has been eroded by the too frequent experience of mediocrity."
Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation and Cities
As the UK’s national strategic body and a government advisor for design in the built environment, the Cabe team at the Design Council welcomes the reform of the planning system to create a simplified, more inclusive process.
Good planning is fundamental to the production and maintenance of high quality, well-designed places that create both the physical and social conditions for sustainable economic growth. A good planning process also enables decisions to be made that balance diverse and competing needs that are inherent in any development. A good design process is about working through those problems and finding shared solutions.
Research shows that over 87% of people agree that better quality buildings and public spaces can improve quality of life. Cabe profoundly believes that places that are well-planned, designed, developed and maintained provide a better quality of life for everyone – including delivering the goal of sustainable development for future generations.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has a key role in delivering well-designed, high quality buildings, infrastructure, spaces and places in which people choose to live and work, companies choose to locate and which are resilient to economic and environmental change.
Cabe broadly welcomes the draft NPPF and is pleased by the significant recognition of the role design can play in achieving sustainable development. There are, however, areas in which the draft NPPF could be strengthened in order to meet the Government’s objectives of raising standards of design and achieving sustainable development.
The role of design in achieving sustainable development
Cabe welcomes the recognition that good design is a ‘key element in achieving sustainable development.’ Nevertheless the definition of sustainable development could be strengthened by the inclusion of statements which recognise that a good design process is an essential part of any methodology by which economic, social and environmental issues are mediated and resolved. This would improve the quality of schemes taken forward under the presumption in favour of sustainable development, providing confidence to both local authorities and communities that developments are fit for their local context.
It is also essential for the NPPF to recognise all the components that make up a sustainable place. In particular it should address the role of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure, by which we mean networks of green spaces, is a valuable resource in respect of both climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, the draft NPPF does not currently require green infrastructure to be assessed or managed in the Local Plan and/or through the duty to co-operate. We recommend that this be rectified.
Creating a long-term vision for places
Cabe welcomes the draft NPPF commitment to a genuine ‘plan-led’ approach and the acknowledgement that ‘Local Plans should address the implications of economic, social and environmental change.’ Clear, coherent and comprehensive Local Plans should set the agenda for an area, express aspirations, be proactive and be positive about the future of a place, clearly stating how this will be achieved.
The draft NPPF does not ask local authorities to set out as a strategic priority in their Local Plans the creation of a positive, long-term vision for a place. This needs to be included in the NPPF in order to improve the overall effectiveness of Local Plans by creating a shared vision for developers, local businesses and communities. This shared vision will create more certainty for developers and improve the efficiency of the planning system overall.
Support will be required for local authorities, particularly during the transition process. Communities will also require advice and guidance on how best to take advantage of their increased role in plan making and decision taking. There is a broad ecosystem of organisations able to provide this support, and Cabe is committed to working with partners to find an accessible and inclusive way of inspiring and connecting people.
Local checks and balances
Design Review and other methods of design support enable local authorities, communities and developers to work together in creating schemes that have wide community support and long-term benefits for the area. Cabe welcomes the emphasis on creating a planning system that is more accessible for all users. This is crucial to ensure the success of the new planning system which is currently seen as complex to navigate for individuals, communities and burdensome for developers. Creating appropriate, local checks and balances must be a vital component of the system.
The inclusion of Design Review methodology in the draft NPPF is welcome as this is a tried and tested mechanism by which local planning authorities and developers are able to assess the quality, impact and sustainability of projects. The quality of advice given by panels will be of critical importance; we therefore recommend that the NPPF requires Design Review arrangements be both independent and impartial and follow the industry-led best practice guidance as detailed in ‘Principles and Practice’.
While we support the definition of sustainable development and agree that the NPPF (when working in concert with the Local Plan) will provide speed and certainty, there remains a concern for the transition period when local authorities will not have their Local Plans in place. We therefore recommend that local authorities have access to independent expert support in order to develop or update their Local Plan.
Should you require further information or briefing on how best to get good quality design through the planning system, please contact Kate Jones on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7420 5274.
 Principles and Practice (CABE, Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Landscape Institute, 2008)