Housing delivery under threat through a lack of design skills in planning

The Government, both in its manifesto and in the recent Housing Green Paper, committed itself to a step change in the delivery of high quality new homes across the country.  Research published today puts those aspirations in doubt because of worsening design skills gaps in English local planning authorities.

This report summarises the findings of a freedom of information survey of urban design skills within local planning authorities, and how they have changed over the last five years. It demonstrates that urban design skills and capacity within local planning authorities are woefully low and declining and that these gaps are not being filled by the patchy, albeit increasing, use of design review. Critical gaps exist within local planning authorities, including the ability to produce proactive design guidance in-house in order to positively shape the future of new housing developments.

A very real danger now exists that as we gear up to deliver a greater number of homes nationally, the absence of design expertise locally will result in a new generation of substandard developments. This, for example, includes new housing estates that are dominated by roads and tarmac, lacking any greenery or character, and which are disconnected from public transport and local amenities. These, moreover, will be with us for generations to come.

The report can be also downloaded from https://bit.ly/PA_SkillsReport2017

Notes for editors

The research was conducted by a team at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning with financial support from the Urban Design Group and the Place Alliance.

Design review is the process of scrutinising new developments care of an independent panel of experts who then make recommendations to the local planning authority on the quality of proposed schemes.
Some of the worst features of many recent housing development include:

  • Increased congestion caused by housing being built beyond walking distance of public transport, shops and schools.
  • Increased obesity and lifestyle diseases contributing to crippling costs for NHS and social services.  A majority of people believe local streets are too dangerous or inconvenient for walking and cycling.  In some council areas the design of new streets puts the needs of lorries and refuse collection vehicles, above those of adults, elderly people and children.
  • Treeless streets and poorly designed green spaces and play areas
  • Increased use of greenfield land and loss of countryside – through a failure to build to an appropriate density.

The Urban Design Group is a membership organisation open to all who care about the quality of life in urban areas and who believe that better urban design is central to raising standards.
The Place Alliance is hosted by UCL and brings people, evidence and organisations together as a means to support the case for investing in a high quality built environment.

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

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