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Today, developers follow national and regional policy set out by government and local authorities. These policies have to be implemented in any development, where planning applications are to be approved.  The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states “development should go ahead… in favour of sustainable development” (National Planning Policy Framework, pp. 5).  However, many schemes today do not go far enough in terms of providing high quality urban design. Therefore, charities and practices make their own guidance documents. In addition, there is no mandatory legislation for design guides to influence developments, but in recent years, policy has begun to catch up.

Urban design in the planning system, presented by Colin Haylock,  inspired me to write this blog. There is a lack of good design principles within the UK’s planning framework. In many cases, this has allowed for generic “copy and paste” designs, leaving homes, infrastructure and landscape, all with a similar look (Koolhass, 2013). Certain schemes overlook the fundamental design principles – higher density; functional green space and inclusive public realm. Throughout this blog. I will examine the UK’s design policy and developmental influences of today’s world.

Generic housing design (1)

National Policy

The NPPF includes good design principles, such as:

  • Mixed use development;
  • Place making;
  • Mix tenure;
  • Housing for all ages and disabilities;
  • Heritage strategy and;
  • Flood prevention.

However, high density development is not included. It is stated  that “densities should reflect local circumstances” (National Planning Policy Framework, pp. 19) but the UK’s policy has adopted 30 dwellings per hectare (DPH) as standard. This results in large land sections taken up by housing, creating brownfield sites that permanently damage the environment. The UK needs 300,000 houses per year according to Parliament (Parliament, 2015) and, we are ranked as the lowest in Europe for densities. Barcelona has 400 DPH, Netherlands has 100 DPH (Urban Task Force, 1999).

Towards an Urban Renaissance – The spread of housing densities within a city (2)

Local Plan – Design Policies

Currently, each Local Authority, includes design policies in their Local Plan. These range from:

  • Delivering high quality development;
  • Enhancing local character;
  • Residential amenity and public art;
  • Efficient use of resources and;
  • Adaptation to climate change (SODC, 2016).

Plus, many authorities include supplementary planning documents, such as ‘design guides’. This promotes design principles and innovative approaches for new developments (SODC, 2016). South Oxfordshire’s design guide shows a development process, for large and small scale sites. This illustrates at each stage, from site analysis, residential amenities, open space, plus blue and green infrastructure. This advice is directed at developers and designers, to improve their design rationale.

South Oxfordshire’s Local Plan and Design Guide cover (3) (4)



Enquiry by Design

Controversial plans to develop 3000 homes in Chalgrove’s airfield, sparked anger from residents (SODC, 2016). The design team engaged with the community over five days, to establish their biggest concerns (NewMasterplanning, 2017). Additionally, this process helped the community trust in the planning process, allowing them to influence the end result, making a master plan that works for everyone. However, the designers do not have to take the community’s advice, as they are not Planners or Designers, but they are community stakeholders, and this process gives them a voice.

Chalgrove’s enquiry by design with NewMasterplanning (5)

Public Consultation

Although, Enquiry by Design is not a compulsory stage in the design process, other processes such as public consultation have a place. it is used to show that the developer has listened to stakeholder comments and understands their critiques. Furthermore, Urban Design Officers can provide feedback on masterplans and strategies. An example of this can be seen in Warborough and Shillingford, showing the main criticisms of their masterplan. This process helps gather opinions and ideas from different people, about what they want to include or not. However, the developer can choose to ignore this, as unfortunately it does not determine whether a planning application will be approved.

Design Council

Created in 1944 by the great Sir Winston Churchill, the organisation evolved to tackle socio-economic challenges. In 2011, they merged with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), producing strategic design advice for professionals and developers. Their website and articles focus on practical design solutions for the challenges of tomorrow. Furthermore, CABE’s team of designers, help clients to make informative decisions, inline their directive – help, educate and train people to be more aware of the built environment (Design Council, 2017).

Design Councils resource documents (6)


What can Designers do?

As Urban Designers we design for the people, whilst selling a proposal to our clients. We need to think about practical solutions:

  • Incentivise developers, to build human friendly developments;
  • Think of creative and viable design solutions;
  • Use best practice case studies and;
  • Be design competitive.

 Please see our: Instagram and Pinterest pages for more inspiration


School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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