National Planning Policy Framework Amendments Target Quality of Design in New Development

Earlier this year the government ran a consultation on revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the contents of the draft National Model Design Code. No sweeping reforms were proposed, instead the government’s focus was placed on improving the design quality of new developments. The question is do the amendments proposed signify a shift in policy emphasis towards design, and does this shift infer that greater weight may be given to design elements of proposed schemes?

It is now clearly stated within the NPPF that poor quality schemes should be refused and references to ‘good design’ have been replaced with ‘good design and beautiful places’. The commitment to beauty and placemaking is promoted further with the inclusion of the National Model Design Code within the government’s Planning Practice Guidance.

The National Design Code creates a framework for local authorities and communities to help develop a more consistent approach to design, that will reflect local character and design preferences. Local Authorities will be required to produce design codes or guides and embed them in policy to promote successful, high-quality design in that responses to local character and preferences. In the absence of local design guidance, local authorities will be expected to rely on the illustrated National Design Guide and National Model Design Code.

This document aims to give clearer guidance to developers on what is acceptable and is hoped to lead to faster planning decisions based on whether proposals are compliant with local design codes. This certainly suggests that greater weight may be attributed to design in the future. Interpretation of new guides and policy, as well as early engagement between developers and Local Authorities, will be essential in ensuring an efficient path through the planning process.

Once finalised, the National Model Design Code is likely to have major consequences on emerging Local Plan policies and supplementary documents. The importance of engaging with Local Authorities as these documents are produced is not to be understated, the opportunity to consult on their contents and influence the final documents will be an important for all developers, local and national.

Moving forward, dependent on the outcome of the government’s proposals for wider reform of the planning system, a full review of the NPPF is likely to be required. The draft National Model Design Code document can be found here and the governments consultation proposals here, please note the consultation closed on March 27th 2021 and the feedback is being analysed.

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