In our response to the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) we made a clear case that to create, radical, lasting reform the policy needed design at its heart. On 24 July, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published its revised NPPF and we were pleased to see that design plays a much more prominent role.

It may not be quite at the heart of the NPPF but it is definitely in the mind of MHCLG who clearly understand the important role design will play if they are to deliver on the government’s goal of delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

The change between the draft NPPF and the updated NPPF is significant. The first draft discussed how, “Planning policies and decisions should support the creation of high quality buildings and places. Plans should, at the most appropriate level, set out a clear design vision and expectations, so that applicants have as much certainty as possible about what is likely to be acceptable.”, vitally the updated version goes further saying that, “the creation of high quality buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve. Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, creates better places in which to live and work and helps make development acceptable to communities.” There is also a bolstering of the language about community engagement, with a focus on “effective engagement between applicants, communities, local planning authorities and other interests throughout the process”. Outside of the framework itself, the refocusing on design was a key part of the department’s communications on the day. 

There are also welcome changes to not just create places that are “safe, inclusive and accessible, with a high standard of amenity for existing and future users” but also to “promote health and well-being”. Our Healthy Placemaking report published during the consultation period shows that while healthy placemaking is recognised in, public health and placemaking policy, it is not understood or implemented consistently across the sector and it continues to be seen as a cost to local development rather than an investment. The change to the NPPF is an important step in creating places that improve people’s standards of living, reduce preventable disease and alleviate pressures on health and social care. More work still needs to be done to embed healthy placemaking within policy, commissioning and practice, engaging all parties delivering the built environment, but this is a movement in the right direction.

The long-term challenge that the government has set itself is ambitious. The number of houses it plans to build every year over the coming years has not been seen for over a generation. If this government wants to reverse the series of “many failures by many people over many years” identified by the Prime Minister when the NPPF was launched it has to maintain its focus on design. Design can play a key role in the “radical lasting reform” government seeks: driving greater understanding of the needs of populations; building public support for developments; creating sustainable solutions across the country and enabling innovation in the construction industry.  It is only by realising these opportunities that we will know it is serious about creating lasting change.

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