Richard’s take on urban design in the UK planning system is insightful. By drawing attention to some of the faults of general practices – i.e. overlooking fundamental design principles like higher density, functional green space and inclusive public realm – Richard looks towards how true high quality design can create genuine, high quality places.
Richard draws attention to the NPPF in his post on Urban Design in the UK Planning system. I would argue that the NPPF requires serious revision in order for the UK system to truly flourish in terms of urban design, and place-making because. The NPPF, whilst it appears to be a strong advocate of ‘sustainable design’, I feel, does not define the term fully and specifically. The planning system in the UK is primarily concerned with producing developments, not ‘places’ (Llewelyn-Davies 2000). Partly due to the fact that the UK housing sector is dominated by private developers, whose primary motives are profit-driven, it is difficult to argue for greatly enhanced, and true sustainable design, due to the fact that it doesn’t necessarily increase the value of the final product, whilst at the same time costing more in investment. I think this is apparent when looking at the average size of new builds in the UK, which are substantially smaller than those in the Netherlands, and Denmark – two countries which are significantly smaller than the UK, yet new homes are up to 80% larger than here in the UK (BBC 2011). This is clearly an issue with the planning system, where there is little definitive information on the quality of new builds. New builds sold as ‘three bedrooms’ can often barely be classed as having one decent sized bedroom, and floor to ceiling heights are left to be decided by the developer, resulting in small, shoebox-like rooms.
The UK is suffering from a ‘housing crisis’ based on quantity, with 250,000 new homes needing to be built every year to keep up with demand (thehomesweneed.org); I would argue that we also have a housing crisis of quality – one which could be considered just as important. Most interestingly, and frustratingly to some degree, as Richard mentioned, are the copy and paste developments, which now exist throughout the UK, all with a similar look (Koolhass, 1995). Developments that are bland, and characterless, lack richness, texture and diversity continue to be built across the UK, regardless of the repertoire of examples of good quality design that exist throughout the world. These developments, which are unsustainable in form and function are predominantly car-oriented, mono-functional, tree-like (Alexander, 1965), and tend to lack good quality green space and recreational facilities.
Richard asked the question towards the end of his blog: what can designers do? He listed four things: incentivise developers, to build human friendly developments; think of creative and viable design solutions; use best practice case studies; and be design competitive. I agree with these points. However, I feel that the UK planning system has a fundamental responsibility to provide better homes, and more importantly, better places.
Alexander, C (1965) A city is not a tree’, Architectural Forum, 122 (1 & 2)
BBC, (2011) Shoebox homes become the new norm, link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14916580
Koolhaas, R. (1995). The generic city, and Whatever happened to urbanism?, 2nd Edition, pp.358-372
Featured image: Andrew Lainton (2011)