A design unit for England

October 2020

The recently published Planning White Paper signals a significant new national commitment aimed at prioritising the design quality of new development. A commitment is also given in it to set up a new national body to support the transition to a more design-focussed planning system. This follows our call for such a body – A Design Quality Unit – made in the pamphlet Delivering Urban Quality, Time to Get Serious.

Together with The Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, CPRE, Design Council, Design Network, Trees & Design in Action Group and the Urban Design Group, our new pamphlet – Place Alliance – Towards A Design Quality Unit Pamphlet – is intended to assist in the process of exploring options for a new unit. It sets out proposals for what the i) mission, ii) tools of engagement and iii) modes of delivery of the new body might be and is written in the spirit of encouraging and helping to shape a public debate, not of having all the answers. 

May 2020

As the recently published Housing Design Audit for England revealed, we have been systematically failing to deliver good quality urban development across England for decades, particularly in our new residential environments.  Building on recent welcome initiatives, notably the work of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC), there is now a once in a generation opportunity for the Government to show real leadership and ambition and to help turn the tide.

To drive the necessary culture change requires focus, capacity, leadership and resourcing.  Together with the Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, CPRE, Design Council,  Trees & Design Action Group and Urban Design Group, we believe that the Government should set up a dedicated Design Quality Unit for England in order to confront the challenges head on and focus attention on the delivery of better design. 

About the campaign

Together With 

There is a direct and indisputable link between the quality of places and their place value, or how they enable users to sustain healthy, socially rich, economically productive lifestyles that minimise environmental impact. As the UK looks to strengthen its global position whilst levelling up at home, it will be ever more important that the quality of our urban environments enables us to compete for international talent and investment whilst enhancing the everyday well-being and quality of life for all.

The BBBBC’s proposals come at a time when, care of the recently published Housing Design Audit for England, there is clear evidence that government guidance and policy on design and sustainability is not being effectively implemented. On the basis of the experience of the past two decades, it is difficult to see how the BBBBC’s propositions will be delivered without a determined and very public effort by Government that also reaches out and harnesses the knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment of the sector. 

The BBBBC report offers a valuable analysis and template for the Government and the country to re-focus our collective attention on the quality of the places in which we live. To carry this forward will require an organisation with the capacity, focus and resourcing to help drive the culture change that is required, across Government (national and local), across industry and across the country at large, in city, town and country. 

Joint submission to the government

In February 2020, the Place Alliance together with the Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, CPRE, Design Council, Trees & Design Action Group and Urban Design Group, sent a joint letter to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

We argued that we have been systematically failing to deliver good quality urban design across England for decades, particularly in our new residential environments and that now there is an opportunity for the Government to show real leadership and ambition to help turn the tide. We collectively urged the Government to set up a dedicated Design Quality Unit for England to confront the challenges head on and focus attention on the delivery of better design.

“Delivering urban quality – time to get serious” launch

Following an official Press Release, the pamphlet “Delivering urban quality – time to get serious“, which sets out the case for a Design Quality Unit for England, was officially launched during a virtual event on the 27 of May 2020. Over 400 viewers joined the live streaming chaired by Roger Harrabin (BBC Energy and Environment Analyst) to listen to a number of quick-fire presentations followed by a discussion.

Following the work of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission and the findings in A Housing Design Audit for England, this initiative calls for a step-change in the Government’s focus on, and attention to, design quality. As the Covid-crisis has starkly revealed, the quality of our built environment is critical to our everyday sense of well-being, and will impact profoundly on the future success of our nation. It’s time to get serious about design quality!

Further reading

The Planner – Call for ‘new Cabe’ to oversee urban development

The Planner – Call for ‘new Cabe’ to oversee urban development

The government should set up a dedicated Design Quality Unit for England to build on the work of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC).  This is the conclusion of a consortium of organisations comprising the Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, CPRE,...

BD- How to win the peace

BD- How to win the peace

Now is the time to establish a design quality unit for England, argues David Rudlin

Housing Audit: Keeping up the momentum

Housing Audit: Keeping up the momentum

Following from the publication A Housing Design Audit for England and the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission report Living with Beauty, Place Alliance coordinated a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, the Rt...

BBC News – New UK housing ‘dominated by roads’

BBC News – New UK housing ‘dominated by roads’

A new report from University College London (UCL) says too many highways engineers are still approving roads that do not fully account for pedestrians and cyclists. It follows a government survey suggesting three quarters of people want to drive less to protect our...