Planning matters

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NPPF consultations – what could they mean for designers?
It’s not easy to get overexcited about a draft which seeks to further reduce and simplify design policy from that already achieved by the NPPF in 2012. However, for once, less is perhaps more… Aside from grouping together specific design related NPPF paragraphs into one place, Section 12 of the draft NPPF moves the design policy emphasis away from requiring good design to achieving well-designed places. This, for those old enough to remember, was the overarching objective of the publication Better Places to Live, By Design: A Companion Guide to PPG3 (withdrawn 2014) and, it is a welcome change and return to a placemaking agenda. In Section 12 there remains the expectation for plans to provide a clear vision, and for design policies and standards to be grounded in characteristics specific to a locality. However, design policies should also reflect the aspirations of the local community (draft NPPF para 124). From experience, community aspiration and design invariably suggests a more ‘conservative’ and ‘familiar’ approach to placemaking, rather than encouraging anything too radical, although local planning authorities will still be discouraged from preventing innovation or change (draft NPPF paras 125 and 126c). Para 126 of the draft NPPF is a redraft of the familiar list of design related ‘objectives’ at NPPF para 58, to which is added layout, density (a throw-back to PPS3) and effective rather than appropriate landscaping (suggesting a lot more tree screening of development is to come). Density also warrants its own chapter in the draft NPPF (11) and there are some cross over objectives, such as between draft NPPF para 122 (particularly d – character, and e – well-designed and attractive places) and draft NPPF para 126. However, for all those looking to intensify the suburbs, note that gardens can be a constituent part of the character of an area (draft NPPF para 122). Design process and engagement remain important, but local planning authorities are now suggested to look at using tools such as Building for Life Assessments (a throw-back to CABE) in addition to having regard to design advisors and reviews. And lastly, possibly hinting at the number of ‘make weight’ design related reasons for refusing development, there is a warning that where the design of a development accords with clear expectations in local policies, design should not be used by the decision-maker as a valid reason to object to development (draft NPPF para 129), not that local planning authorities would have ever considered doing so... See our other blogs in this series: National Planning Policy Framework review: what to expect? Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework: a change in narrative NPPF consultation proposals – what could they mean for town centres? Draft NPPF: heritage policy is conserved… Draft NPPF: implications for aviation? Draft NPPF: business as usual? Draft NPPF: more emphasis on healthy and safe communities Lichfields will publish further analysis of the consultation on the draft revised NPPF and its implications. Click here to subscribe for updates.

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The Great Fire of London: a history of master planning and development management
Picture the scene this Saturday evening…people wrapped up warm in scarves, hats and gloves ready for spectacular fireworks displays to celebrate Bonfire Night. But in the year of 1666 it is said that there were no Bonfire Night celebrations in London on 5 November as a result of the raging fire that had spread across the City only two months earlier starting with a baker’s oven and destroying a huge swathe of the Square Mile. For those of you not familiar with the story of the Great Fire of London, on the night of 2 September 1666 a fire started in King’s Bakery in Pudding Lane. Fires were not uncommon at this time and usually put out quickly but, due to a combination of dry timber buildings from a long hot summer and a strong easterly wind, the fire spread rapidly[1]. Whilst efforts were made to quell the fire it continued to spread for four days until the wind changed direction and the fire was finally put out. Overall four fifths of the City was lost including 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, the Royal Exchange, Guildhall and St Paul’s Cathedral[2]. Out of the ashes, however, came a major master planning opportunity to redesign the lost parts of the City. Several masterplans were put forward for its strategic redevelopment which had huge potential for its transformation. One such plan was penned by Sir Christopher Wren who proposed an ambitious vision of neat blocks in a grid system and wide boulevards that would rival those in Paris. The plan went beyond street layout however and included a focus on London’s commercial and productive capabilities including a distribution of markets with a financial centre at the Royal Exchange and a grand terrace fronting the River Thames lined with properties for the various city companies[3]. Sir Christopher Wren’s Plan (Museum of London) The majority of other plans put forward followed a similar grid-based approach.John Evelyn presented long straight streets and large squares in an Italian radial plan with central piazzas and streets leading outwards from this point; Robert Hooke proposed streets in perfect straight lines with all other streets branching off at right angles. John Evenlyn’s Plan (Museum of London) Robert Hooke (Museum of London) Controversially, Richard Newcourt suggested a grid-based plan that would require the demolition of areas of the City that had not been affected by the fire. At the centre of each square within the grid system would be a church for the community. Richard Newcourt’s plan (Museum of London) Unfortunately, none of these visionary plans for a new London were taken forward. Due to complex land ownership issues and the need to redevelop quickly, properties were largely built on existing plots and streets following the same pattern, albeit a little wider.  Whilst some argue that this was an opportunity missed, others consider that it was necessary for London’s businesses and people to recover and get England’s economic powerhouse back on its feet as fast as possible.  These visions have however informed future master planning approaches elsewhere in the world, with some believing that Newcourt’s designs influenced the design of Philadelphia and the American grid system model[4].So whilst the fire didn’t result in the complete redevelopment of the City, crucially it did lead to the introduction of early development controls in the form of Building Regulations. On 8 February 1667, King Charles II introduced a Rebuilding Act, which gave specific instructions for how London was to be rebuilt. These were extended by the City of London in May 1667 in the Building Regulations Order. These development control measures included: The widening of streets and the requirement for upper floors to no longer jetty beyond the floor below– before the fire, streets were often very narrow with the upper storeys of houses overhanging them, so residents on opposite sides could shake hands between their windows on the top floors. Introduction of four housing typologies: two-storey houses for small lanes, three storeys for streets and lanes of note, four storeys for ‘high and principal streets’ and mansion houses for ‘persons of extraordinary quality’. Use of brick or stone for the outside walls of houses (which lead to the demise of timber housing). Adjacent houses had to be of the same height. Signs were not allowed to hang into the street. As a result of the measures and processes introduced by the Acts and Orders, much of the rebuilding work had been completed by 1676. These development control measures were fundamental to the quick recovery from the catastrophe and for reducing the chances of a similar event happening again.Development control measures have clearly moved on since this time, not least through the advent of town planning in the 19th century, but it’s interesting to think about its early origins and how it revolutionised building in London following the fire. And whilst the master planning efforts of some 17th century greats were never implemented (in London at least) it’s interesting to think what could have been…[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35418272 [1] http://www.fireoflondon.org.uk/story/ [2] http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/great-fire-of-london.asp [3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/02/after-the-great-fire-london-could-have-looked-like-paris-thankfu/ [4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35418272 

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