Despite what you might think from Jenrick’s public pronouncements on the topic, the Design Guide is about more than just “tree-lined roads” – although “street trees” do make regular appearances in the guide.
Over the past decade, local planning departments have had to wade through ever more technical information to determine planning applications. From air quality assessments to drainage strategies, highways assessments to utilities surveys, case officers are swamped with information to show that proposed developments are actually deliverable – all while still being expected to determine applications within 13 weeks.
At a time when planning departments are so under-resourced, it must be difficult to find the time to properly interrogate the masterplans and layouts they are presented with. Design appraisal is often limited to checking dimensions such as interface distances between new homes. Officers must be fearful, too, of refusing a planning application on such a subjective point as design quality.
The guide could empower planning officers to spend more time considering design quality, giving them the confidence to refuse ill-thought-through applications.
Furthermore, the guide places the onus on developers to invest time and money in design. With a significant shortage of suitable sites for new homes, historically housebuilders have been able to compete on location alone, design being a secondary concern.
We won’t ever agree what good design actually is – but with pressure to improve standards being applied from all sides, trying to deliver it is going to become increasingly important.
Paul Smith, managing director, Strategic Land Group