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Building for Life 12

30 January 2015

Building for Life 12 (BfL 12) is the industry standard for the design of new housing developments.

Design Council Cabe firmly believes that housing should be attractive, functional and sustainable – this guide presents how using Building for Life 12 can help you achieve these outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who published this guide?

This third edition of the guide was published in January 2015 by Nottingham Trent University on behalf of the Building for Life partnership (Design Council Cabe, the Home Builders Federation and Design for Homes - the inside cover of the guide contains a full list of authors, editors and contributors). It is based on the new National Planning Policy Framework and responds to the Government’s commitment to build more homes, better homes and involve local communities in planning.

What is the status of this new Third Edition in relation to previous Editions?

This is the latest version of the Building for Life 12 document and we encourage all users of Building for Life 12 to use this Third Edition, published in January 2015, from now on. It contains important updates and amendments. Specifically it includes new design prompts for urban schemes and explains how the associated Built for Life quality mark award operates. Assessments completed using the First Edition (September 2012) and Second Edition (August 2014) are still valid.

Who can use Building for Life 12?

Building for Life 12 is available for use by anyone who has an interest in new homes and neighbourhoods. From developers to community groups to local authorities, Building for Life 12 aims to help people create better places to live.

Is there still a scoring system?

Yes, in terms of assessing the performance of the scheme against each of the 12 questions. It uses a traffic light system rather than a points score. A well designed scheme should perform well against all 12 of the new questions – the top score being 12 Greens.  

How does the traffic light system work?

Details are provided within the BfL 12 Guide. In brief:

  • Green shows the design of the scheme has responded positively to the question.
  • Red elements identify aspects of proposals that need to be changed and where the scheme design at the time of assessment fails to respond to the question positively.
  • Amber is used where there is clear evidence of local constraints on the scheme beyond the control of the design team that prevent it from achieving a green.

Who decides what is a green, amber, or red outcome for each question?

BfL 12 is designed to be used at all stages of the development process, guiding design related discussions with the local community, local authority and other stakeholders. Through this process, all parties should understand what needs to be done in local circumstances to achieve as many green lights as possible, minimise ambers and avoid reds. Any ambers and reds should be identified early so that a suitable design solution can be found where possible.

Applicants should show evidence of how their development performs against each question, justifying either a green or amber outcome. Any ambers should be those where sub-optimal solutions are unavoidable because of the particular circumstances of the scheme beyond the control of the applicant (and where there is evidence to support this).

It’s important that applicants score their schemes robustly.

The purpose of the questions is to enable a conversation about the design of new schemes between the applicant and the local planning authority and thereby arrive at a mutually supported result using BfL 12.

Is there more guidance for using the questions?

The Building for Life partnership has taken on board a wide range of suggested improvements to ensure the questions are clear and unambiguous. Each question has supplementary information and pointers on how to approach an assessment and there is now a new chapter on using BfL 12 in urban locations. Training programmes developed by a range of providers may provide further material to help understand urban design principles and the specific issues underpinning each question.

How do I use the new chapter on using BfL 12 on urban schemes?

The new chapter on page 18 of the Third Edition contains supplementary design prompts to help assess schemes with few, if any, new streets and to deal with higher rise blocks and how they relate to their context. The ethos of each of the BfL 12 questions hasn’t changed but the new text helps users evaluate the design of such schemes for specific questions in BfL 12 and reach a conclusion on the scoring. We recommend that design teams reach early agreement with the local authority on whether they are using the main set of 12 questions only or using this supplementary set for the scheme in question.

Who can carry out a BfL 12 assessment?

BfL 12 is designed to be used by anyone with an interest in development to frame conversations about good design. There is not a cadre of individuals who have a specific status or right to undertake an assessment. There is no obligation on applicants to use an external or independent consultant to complete an assessment but they are free to do so if they so wish.

The Building for Life Partnership does not approve any specific providers and does not maintain a list of providers of assessment services. We recommend anyone commissioning an external provider of such services satisfies themselves that the provider has appropriate experience and expertise.

Is there a pro forma that should be used to complete the assessment?

There is no set pro forma. Please create your own document that will work for you, using the 12 questions in Building for Life 12.

If a developer commissions or undertakes a BfL 12 assessment what status does it have?

A developer that commissions or undertakes an assessment will have a document that could be used to support the design quality of an application. However, these should be reviewed by local authorities.

Can a local authority claim its interpretation of the traffic light system would prevail over a developers’ view?

If BfL 12 is used at the start of the process, there should be broad agreement at the outset as to how each question will be approached. Any issues, i.e. reds and ambers, should be highlighted early and resolved between the parties concerned. In turn, this should avoid fundamental disagreements at a later stage.

How are you going to ensure consistency across the many users of BfL with the new questions?

Consistency was a key issue raised in relation to the 2008 version of BfL. The BfL partners designed BfL 12 with a series of more detailed recommendations on how to address each question to better support those who use it. This in turn is expected to ensure a higher degree of consistency. The new set of design prompts for urban schemes should help ensure that such schemes can be scored effectively again improving the consistency of outcomes across different types of scheme.

Why are there 12 questions when there were 20 before?

The new 12 questions version of Building for Life has now been used in practice for over 2 years. Some of the questions from the previous version have been consolidated; these questions referred to the same design feature or principle and were creating confusion. For example, in the old version of BfL there were two questions both referring to the relationship between streets and buildings (questions 10 and 11), whereas now there is one (question 7).

We have removed some questions which research among users demonstrated created problems and uncertainties rather than supporting a constructive dialogue. Current government policies are less prescriptive than previously and so other questions invite discussion rather than requiring compliance. We also believe that the traffic lights approach to measuring success in meeting the 12 principles will highlight any ‘cherry-picking’, i.e. failing to meet some principles altogether.

Why are there no questions on the qualities of the home itself?

BfL 12 is very clearly focused on promoting quality in urban design for new residential developments. This has always been BfL’s primary emphasis. In the absence of national space standards for new homes, experience suggested that the questions relating to the internal qualities of the home were largely ineffective and proved difficult to apply.

How do I refer to Building for Life now?

We encourage all users to use ‘Building for Life 12’ or if shortened 'BfL 12' when referring to Building  for Life. We would also encourage users to reference in an assessment the edition of the BfL 12 document that they are using for clarity. As stated before the latest version of BfL12 is the Third Edition (January 2015).

What is the status of the old 20 question version of Building for Life?

The 20 question version is no longer in use and all users should use the latest Third Edition of Building for Life 12.

Has there been input from Building for Life users in creating and updating the latest edition?

The Building for Life Partners are continuously receiving feedback from users and taking soundings with key partners. It is based on this feedback that we have developed the latest Third Edition of Building for Life 12.

Planning Policy

We refer to Building for Life in our adopted planning policy: how do we use the Building for Life 12?

You can continue to reference BfL in planning policy but local planning authorities should consider whether they need to amend the wording of their existing policies to reference BfL 12. This will depend on the way individual policies are worded as authorities have referenced BfL in different ways.

If the wording of the existing planning policy simply references BfL it may be acceptable to leave it. But if the policy references the 20 questions, or mentions a minimum score out of 20, it will be necessary to amend the policy to refer specifically to BfL 12.

We refer to BfL in our adopted planning policy and require a minimum score under the old 20 questions. How do we work with BfL 12?

Whilst we encourage local authorities to adopt BfL 12 we recommend they avoid explicitly setting a requirement for all promised developments to achieve 12 greens. Instead we recommend that local policies to use BfL 12 as a design tool throughout the planning process with schemes performing positively against it.

We also recommend that local authorities consider expecting developments to demonstrate they are targeting BfL 12 where applications for outline planning permission are granted. A useful way to express this expectation is through either a condition or ‘note to applicant’.

Can we keep using the old 20 questions?

No. The 20 question version is now obsolete. There had been a requirement to use the previous version on some schemes because of Homes and Communities Agency funding policy. The HCA now references Building for Life 12 for all new schemes under their 2015-2018 funding round. Therefore there is no longer any reason to use the old 20 question version and we recommend that you use the latest Third Edition version of Building for Life 12.

Do you know the lifespan of the new questions? We are writing a local plan and don’t want to keep changing it.

Building for Life has been through three major iterations since its launch in 2003, finishing with Building for Life 12 launched in 2012, so the original version arguably had a lifespan of 11 years. This Third Edition does not change BfL 12 fundamentally and the same 12 questions are included. Whilst we cannot anticipate future changes to the planning system, we hope that the BfL12 12 questions, which refer to general principles of good design, will have a lifespan of at least 7 to 10 years.

Accredited Assessors

I was an accredited assessor for the previous BfL questions. What is my status going forward?

Accredited Assessor status relates to the previous BfL questions. It ceased on 20 September 2012.

How do I become an accredited assessor for the new BfL 12 questions?

There is no “accredited” status with regard to Building for Life 12. 

I describe myself as a BfL accredited assessor. Must I stop describing myself as this?

The status ceased to exist on 20 September 2012, therefore the term is now obsolete. 

Can I describe myself as a ‘BfL 12 Questions’ assessor? What happens if there’s a disagreement - whose view is final?

No, as stated above, there is no accredited status applying to the BfL 12. We are encouraging the use of BfL 12 as a collaborative dialogue, with the 12 questions used at the start of and throughout the development and consultation process. We hope that rather than ‘assessor’ and ‘applicant’ there will be a move towards a constructive design team approach, involving the local community, developer, their advisors and local authority.

The emphasis is very much on everyone working together to help build more homes and better homes.

Built for Life Accreditation

What is Built for Life?

Built for Life is a new quality mark offered by the Building for Life Partnership. It is available for qualifying schemes immediately after planning approval, offering developers the opportunity to promote the quality of their developments. Developers must apply for the accreditation and there is a fee attached. The Built for Life commendation replaces the previous Building for Life “Diamond” working title.

There are two levels of award – Built for Life for schemes achieving 9 Greens and Built for Life ‘Outstanding’ for schemes achieving 12 Greens. There is the intention that schemes awarded ‘Outstanding’ will form the basis of an awards programme honouring the ‘best of the best’. Further details on this will be announced in due course.

Built for Life accreditations are awarded through an independent assessment process using Built for Life Forums of experts local to each scheme.

  • For further information on the Built for Life Accreditation including how to apply and the fees charged please contact David Birkbeck, one of the Building for Life Partners, at Design for Homes: tel. 020 3301 3855  and 07968 731 991

What’s happened to Gold and Silver standards?

The Gold and Silver standards were used for the previous 20 questions version of Building for Life. This has now been superseded by Building for Life 12. There is no intentional correlation between the two new Built for Life Accreditation levels and the Gold and Silver standards used previously. 

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