Building Beautiful, No Matter What They Say.

The Weekly Newgate Engage Planning Blog by Scott Harker

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then nowhere is this more the case than when it comes to the design of new homes. A housing development that looks beautiful to one group of people may be considered to be an absolute eyesore to another.

When it comes to housebuilding, the Conservative Party’s recent agenda has focussed on promoting ‘beautiful’ homes as a way of enhancing lives and building support within communities for housebuilding.

The approach taken to deliver this has involved publishing a National Design Guide to promote good-quality design principles and to require that local authorities develop their own design guides that promote ‘beautiful’ homes within their local context.

Such an approach is a welcome shift towards a codified set of measures designed to address the unpopularity of the appearance of many new developments. In the Government’s thinking, this will also help to build support for these developments from within local communities.

Top of the National Design Guide’s components of a good design are requirements that buildings are ‘attractive’ and ‘enhance’ the area in which they are built. Their inclusion is understandable yet raise what seem to be the biggest problem with the initiative, both of these concepts are strongly contested and are only likely to build support for development in communities in which there is a consensus about what these qualities actually are.

Anyone who has sat through debates at planning committees will know that councillors and members of the public can be deeply torn over whether a design proposal is aesthetically pleasing or would make a ‘positive’ contribution to the area in which it is proposed.

Local authorities would be required to consult with local groups to develop their design codes and one can see this proceeding in much the same way as which local plans are consulted on, the most passionate and involved will articulate their view and whether this represents the wishes of the majority in the area is another matter. The result is likely to be more wrangling over new homes, not less.

This doesn’t mean that the Government shouldn’t bother; discrepancies in the quality of developments delivered by different housebuilders can’t be ignored. But for a Government that has set it stall on delivering another 1 million homes by the middle of the next decade a fixation on beauty may come at a steep cost.

This Week in Planning

Permitted development rights under scrutiny

A Guardian investigation into ‘rabbit hutch homes’ has uncovered a proposed scheme in Haringey which would use Permitted Development Rights (PDR) to build 219 flats, some as small as 4x4m. PDR allows works to properties to begin without requiring full planning permission. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap them, arguing that PDRs allow developers to benefit from uninhabitable properties.

Green light for West London redevelopment

Catalyst Housing’s plans for the Friary Park Estate in Acton has been approved by Ealing Council. The development will see the demolition of 225 existing homes and the building of 990 new homes (45% affordable, split 71% social rent.)There will also be provision for commercial and community floorspace

New Northern waste plant approved

The 47 megawatt facility was approved after Lancashire Council officers concluded that the project would have no significant impact on air quality. Infrastructure developer Miller Turner are progressing the scheme on a former industrial site in Preston. The proposals include a condenser building, an electricity substation, landscaping and car parking. Nearly 400,000 tonnes of waste will be burnt at the site.

Elderly bear the brunt of property charges

A report by The Times newspaper has uncovered that annual management charges and ground rents levied on a number of retirement flats built between 2001 and 2015 have had a profoundly negative impact on their value. This not only affects the elderly owners but also those who stand to inherit the property.

Photo by Lance Anderson on Unsplash