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remember, was the overarching objective of the publication Better Places to Live, By Design: A Companion Guide to PPG3 (withdrawn 2014) and, it is a welcome change and return to a placemaking agenda.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...
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