The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Technical Consultation on Implementation of Planning Changes (February 2016) closes this Friday. It focuses on a range of issues relating to the provisions of the new Housing and Planning Bill and other matters, one of which is the proposed new Permission in Principle.

Stemming from debates at Big Meet 4 (October 2015), supporters of Place Alliance have had considerable concerns over what the proposed new provisions would mean for the important role of the planning system in place-making. Place Alliance has therefore:

  • Jointly hosed, with Urban Design London, a seminar on the issues which attracted around 100 delegates to debate Permission in Principle
  • Raised issues through its evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Built Environment that were subsequently included in its recommendations
  • Engaged in direct discussions with DCLG over these concerns.
  • Prepared proposed amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill that were subsequently tabled by Baroness Whitaker and Lord Best in the House of Lords

Given that Permission in Principle will soon be on the statute books, and despite continuing reservations by many, Place Alliance has sought to pragmatically investigate how the new provisions might be used positively to achieve both the Government’s aim of greater certainly in the planning process, whilst still enabling the proper consideration of design and other qualitative concerns through the planning system.

The proposed solution is the use of ‘coordinating codes’ alongside the grant of Permission in Principle. This is explained in the following Press Release alongside a worked example prepared jointly with Studio REAL in the attached document. We soon hope to be in a position to trial and refine the method.

Safeguarding quality via PiP 

The Housing and Planning Bill suggests a radical departure for British planning through the move to permitting development via a ‘Permission in Principle’ (PiP) relating to sites on a register of brownfield land or otherwise identified in the development plan. It raises the big question, how will design and place quality be guaranteed through this new system? It is only by delivering high quality new homes and places that the vital support of communities will be guaranteed for the new housing the nation clearly needs.

The Minister of State for Housing and Planning, agreed with this when he argued last October at the Place Alliance BIG MEET 4 that “an increased focus on good quality design could help us to deliver more homes, at a quicker pace, which communities can feel proud of”.

The Bill itself in Clause 136 makes provision for a new process of ‘Technical details consent’ to be determined in accordance with PiP.  It means that PiP plus the technical details consent will represent the planning permission. A Technical Consultation on implementation of the changes proposes that design would be one of the matters for consideration at the technical details stage. However, this raises a number of concerns:

Design is not a detail, but is a fundamental part of the process of assessing a planning application. Without proper consideration of the fundamental design considerations that relate to matters such as height, density, landscape, layout, connectivity and so forth, and what this means for how uses and spaces are distributed on a site, it is impossible to properly determine whether a proposal for development is or is not suitable for a site.

In particular it is very difficult to assess the quantum of development appropriate for a site and the right mix of uses (both issues that the legislation proposes should be decided at PiP stage), without having due regard to how this will actually be delivered. Will it, for example, be stacked up high in a single tower, laid out in streets, or perhaps distributed in a series of detached units?

Communities will quite rightly be resistant to the giving of Permission in Principle to new development without having any sense of what that would mean on the ground and how, therefore, it might affect the surrounding context and properties. What is currently proposed may actually increase rather than decrease local resistance to development.

The coordinating code, a possible solution

Taking as a starting point three aims of i) streamlining the process of securing consent to develop, ii) increasing certainty for developers and investors, and iii) maintaining a focus on quality outcomes; it is suggested to combine the designation of PiP with the production of a simple ‘Coordinating code’ for each allocated site.  Design codes are tools that establish the key urban design parameters for a site with a particular focus on making the place, but without the requirement for a detailed masterplan. Their use is encouraged in para. 59 of the NPPF. Coordinating codes would be slimmed down simple codes that, on a single sheet, establish the critical principles for making the place.

As shown in the indicative example, they would:

  1. Focus on the four ‘place’ issues that are common to almost all sites:
  • Community and land Use
  • Landscape setting
  • Movement
  • Built form / massing issues
  1. Contain minimal text that describes only these fundamental design parameters and fixes the expected design response
  2. Illustrate, through a simple plan graphic, the design concept in two dimensional terms in order that the essential parameters of place are fully understood.

In effect this would bring a proper consideration of fundamental (not detailed) design and place quality concerns forward in order to streamline the technical consents process later on. It would guarantee a level of quality to give certainty to both developers and local communities about what the development would entail, and would provide a basis against which to make “an estimate of the number of dwellings that the site would be likely to support” which the Explanatory notes to the Bill (para 420) suggests would be required information in the register of brownfield land. Finally it would help to avoid increased community opposition to proposals as they would have a much better idea of what they are being asked to approve.

Coordinating codes would be simple, quick and easy to prepare (the example took two days) either by local authorities in-house, by consultants, or developers promoting a particular site. Because they would be site specific (not generic), the qualities they espouse could be subject to public engagement early in the development process (as proposed in the Technical Consultation) and would help to ensure a greater focus on securing early agreement about the need for high quality new development. Finally they would help to make planning propositional once again, reviving the role of planning as a positive, confident and proactive force for change.

The attached document shows an example of an indicative coordinating code.

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Notes for editors

The Place Alliance is a new movement which emerged following the Farrell Review of architecture and the built environment (2014).  It brings together organisations and individuals who share a belief that the quality of our built environment has a profound influence on people’s lives.

For further information please contact placealliance@ucl.ac.uk

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