It is time for Government to set up a Design Quality Unit for England to drive up the quality of urban development in England, Design Council’s Chief Executive has announced today (Wednesday 27 May).  

Sarah Weir OBE joined other leaders in urban design at the launch event of a new pamphlet Delivering Urban Quality, Time to Get Serious – published by the Place Alliance on behalf of a consortium made up of Design Council, Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, CPRE, Place Alliance, Trees and Design Action Group and Urban Design Group.  

Delivering Urban Quality, Time to Get Serious makes a clear case for a Design Quality Unit and sets out options for making this happen. It calls on the Government to take concerted action to stop the systematic failure to deliver good quality urban development for decades, as highlighted in the Housing Design Audit for England, supported by Design Council, which was published earlier this year. The new pamphlet aims to inform the Government response to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission’s (BBBBC’s) important report: Living with Beauty to which Design Council contributed. While the consortium has welcomed the broad thrust of analysis and advice advanced by the BBBBC, it concludes in Delivering Urban Quality, Time to Get Serious that it is difficult to see how the BBBBC’s propositions will be delivered without a determined and very public effort by Government that also reaches out and harnesses the knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment of the sector at large. 

The consortium outlines four new models for the government body, stressing that ideally a design quality unit should work through a partnership and networked approach across the country to monitor, challenge, inspire and ultimately help to deliver real change.  

The coronavirus pandemic has only emphasised how critical a high quality built environment is to our everyday sense of well-being, and how disadvantaged those are who suffer poor conditions inside and out, including as lack of living space, poor quality green space, environments that are not walkable, poor access to local facilities. 

We believe living a well-designed home and neighbourhood should be a right, not a privilege. Our experience and knowledge shows that well-designed places, services and networks bring people together, promote mobility, improve health and wellbeing, stimulate the economy and enhance safety. During the midst of coronavirus, with us all confined to our homes for so much of the time, the vital need for high quality design is keenly felt. The establishment of a Design Quality Unit would be a huge step forward in ensuring that well designed developments become the norm rather than the exception.

Sarah Weir, Design Council's Chief Executive

Design Council’s involvement in this crucial publication adds further weight to our extensive work in championing the quality of the built environment. As well as providing ongoing independent strategic design advice and reviews for local authorities, property developers, infrastructure providers and their consultant teams, in the last 18 months we have also:  

  • Launched our Strategy 2020-24 which sets out our commitment to creating sustainable, healthy places. 

  • Convened a virtual event with our built environment experts to consider how we can design places to support the coronavirus crisis 

  • Submitted evidence to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) on ensuring consistently high standards of design nationally, which was subsequently reflected in the BBBBC’s interim report.  

  • Developed a visual design manual with Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design to form part of the revised Design Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) supporting the Government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  

  • Run a workshop on maintaining design quality through the procurement process for the BBBBC, and a workshop with built environment stakeholders and champions for West Midlands Combined Authority on the concept of a national housing expo.  

  • Launched a free online training course in inclusive environments for built environment professionals and other key stakeholders across the UK 

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