Building Better, Building Beautiful

10 February 2020

"The Commission was set up in 2018 by Theresa May’s Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, with the aim of improving the design quality of new buildings and neighbourhoods."

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, spoke at the launch of the Government’s ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission’s final report.

The Commission was set up in 2018 by Theresa May’s Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, with the aim of improving the design quality of new buildings and neighbourhoods.

17 key recommendations have been made in the final report, including a series of proposed changes to the planning system. One recommendation, which has drawn headlines in the press, calls on the planning system to “allow a fast track for beauty” with a “relatively straightforward planning application stage for developments that meet local plan or supplementary planning document design standards”.

Robert Jenrick has supported the implementation of the recommendation. At the launch of the report, the Secretary of State said it was his intention to establish a “fast track for beauty”, where individuals and developers proposing schemes of high quality design and incorporating high quality material can see their developments proceed at pace.

This can certainly be seen as a new but wholesome approach to the age-old problem of encouraging developers to commit to high quality design at an early stage, in order to ease the planning process as a scheme progresses. In a way, however, this new approach has already been placed in practice. Finn Williams, co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of not-for-profit Public Practice, has pointed out that the use of outline or hybrid applications, accompanied by design codes and permission in principle, whereby general design principles of a scheme are agreed at an early stage, allows this early commitment to ‘building beautiful places’, and that once you have a design code for major development, successive phases within a scheme can be progressed more swiftly.

Housebuilders and practitioners have largely welcomed the idea of this fast-track approach, but it is certainly going to take time for local authorities to create and implement rules for a fast-track planning process. Furthermore, implementation of the policy at district/borough-wide level relies on local planning authorities having the resources and expertise to develop such design principles.

It is also expected that revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework may occur, following a recommendation in the report to effectively enforce design standards, with the aim being to ensure that when masterplans or large developments are approved, it is those schemes that are built, and not watered-down to a lower-quality as a scheme progresses.

If your organisation is looking for insight on how the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s recommendations might impact your development pipeline, please get in touch on 020 7357 8000, or by email [email protected].

James Baker, Trainee Planner