The Government published their draft National Model Design Code on Saturday. It seems the boundaries between a working week and weekend only blur further as lockdown deepens…
The NMDC is a direct response to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission "Living with Beauty" report and forms part of an overarching objective to provide a "framework for creating high-quality places, with a consistent and high-quality standard of design to inform development proposals". It seeks "to provide detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design" by local planning authorities. The NMDC and ensuing local policy and guidance are to be embedded within policy through the corresponding draft updates to the National Planning Policy Framework, also issued on Saturday.
The zeitgeist term "beautiful" is scattered throughout the revised NPPF drafting and will raise inevitable questions about its interpretation. Similarly, questions will also arise about the deliverability of locally produced guides or codes in a world of under resourced local planning authorities and, in the absence of this being prepared, the reliance upon national guidance not necessarily being conducive to contextual or characterful design. However, the principles of the drafting and the objective – championing high quality design – must only be commended.
The greatest potential to influence the function of the planning system arising from the changes is perhaps the reconfiguration of extant paragraphs 130 and 131 of the NPPF to form separate limbs of new paragraph 133. First, the proverbial ‘carrot’ to encourage “outstanding / innovative” design is now pitted directly against the ‘stick’ to avoid "poor" design. Second, and more importantly, in addition to development that achieves outstanding / innovative design, significant weight would also be attached to those schemes "which reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes". Upon the adoption of this drafting, proposals that are shown to merely conform to the new design guidance may be attributed equally significant weight as those proposals which truly push boundaries. Whilst skewing the importance of ground-breaking design, in my mind, this is a positive nudge and incentive to applicants to focus on design quality more generally, which should result in the improvement of overall standards.