The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) tries too hard to cover all bases in its final report.
Recognising the value of good design as a wider benefit for communities is overdue from the government. How this report will shape the future of housing design and delivery in the short term, however, is unclear.
There is mention of fast-tracking for beauty, but who defines what beauty is? The report suggests the definition of beauty should be based on local preferences. Does this give local communities false hope that it is up to them to decide how developments should move forward?
There is no mention of how the five-year housing supply can be met. It does acknowledge that this is likely to result in new garden villages, albeit greenfield site development is still frowned upon.
The site allocation system’s lack of robustness is criticised. Local plans are sometimes left as ‘work in progress’ for years. And local authority planning departments are dealt further blows. There is the admittance that “planning has undoubtedly suffered from budget cuts over the last decade, with design and conservation expertise especially suffering”.
The proposed solution is to have “a more rules-based approach”. The question is: who will set these new rules – was the National Design Guide not supposed to serve that very purpose?
It also suggests that “councils will need to dramatically increase their use of digital technology”. It’s a noble idea, but there is no explanation of how this will be funded by already cash-strapped and short-staffed councils.
Disparate topics are covered, from more democratic involvement in planning decisions to long-term stewardship as the precondition for large developments.
There is a scathing commentary on public bodies such as Homes England and all government-funded sectors using a ‘best value for money’ procurement process. The report encourages community-led self-build projects.
The report is worth a read. But with so many questions asked, propositions made and acknowledgement that more research is required, it also leaves much unanswered. It’s in danger of becoming yet another well-intentioned piece of research that will end up on some dusty shelf.
Perhaps if some of the proposals are embedded in forthcoming white papers on the National Planning Policy Framework, there may be tangible long-term benefits. Wholesale change requires
industry-wide commitment. Financial backing from government is needed to make the report’s propositions possible.
Tanja Napoli is design director at Boyer