Urban Update 23 January 2020



23 January 2020

  • 75 percent of housing development in England “mediocre or poor”
    – is the NPPF being ignored?
  • Next Events
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals 5 February
  • National Design Guidance @ Nottingham Urban Room 25 Feb
  • Integrativeplacemakingaddressing the ‘silos’ with collaborative approaches - One day conference – international speakers @ Dundee 28 February
  • Career Opportunities – Manchester – Liverpool - Derbyshire – Solent –– London


Design of New housing development in England overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’

A new survey of 140 new housing developments by UCL for CPRE, the countryside charity, and the Place Alliance reveals that 75% of new housing development should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design.

  • one in five of these developments should have been refused planning permission outright as their poor design was contrary to advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework.
  • a further 54% should not have been granted permission without significant improvements to their design having first been made.

The National Planning Policy Framework (2019) states:

130. Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions, taking into account any local design standards or style guides in plans or supplementary planning documents.

The 2012 version of the NPPF stated

64.  Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.


The survey inevitably opens up the question as why schemes are being put submitted that are contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework, and are then being given planning permission, or allowed on appeal.  


According to the report, the least successful design elements nationally relate to overly engineered highways infrastructure and the poor integration of storage, bins and car parking. These problems led to unattractive and unfriendly environments dominated by large areas of hard surfaces (tarmac or brick paviours), parked cars and bins.  Key aspects of highway design in schemes that scored poorly were a failure to address the highway as an integral part of the street space, poor transitions between developments and their surroundings, for example the use of large roundabouts, and the over dominance and poor detailing of monotonous hard landscape materials.


Professor Matthew Carmona, who led the survey said: “Planning authorities are under pressure to deliver new homes and are therefore prioritising numbers in the short-term over the long-term negative impacts of bad design. At the same time, house builders have little incentive to improve when their designs continue to pass through the planning system. Some highways authorities, meanwhile, do not even recognise their role in creating a sense of place for communities.  


“Collectively, house builders, planning authorities and highways authorities need to significantly raise their game. This can’t come soon enough”.


UDG Executive member Alan Stones and member of the survey steering group, spoke of the need for skills: “in the 2017 UDG funded UCL survey on urban design skills, almost half of local planning authorities were found to have no dedicated in-house design capacity at all; only around 10% had what might be referred to as an urban design / place-making team.”


Leo Hammond, Chair of the Urban Design Group commented “The conclusions of the Place Alliance housing design survey clearly show now is the time for all involved to up their game. We at the UDG say it is time to build neighbourhoods and not housing estates. That is housing, with a mix of other land uses, in sustainable locations, with streets and open spaces for communities and a sense of place.”.


Main Survey Results Summarised


Doing OK on…

  • Safety and security
  • Variety of housing types


Failing on

  • Street and Highway design – leading factor for poor design
  • Bins and storage
  • Parking
  • Architectural response
  • Character and sense of place
  • Streets, connections and amenities
  • Walkability and car-dependence
  • Environmental impacts


Key problems

  • We are not good at building at lower densities and on greenfield.  Higher density schemes were on the whole better designed.
  • Design governance is needed
  • Poor design is getting through on appeal – and this raises questions as to whether the Planning Inspectorate is properly applying the National Planning Policy Framework



  • A big leap needs to be made to higher quality design by the industry as a whole
  • Ethical standards should be developed by the housebuilding sector covering issues such as long-term health, social wellbeing and the environment at large
  • Housebuilders should invest in their own internal design governance teams and processes
  • Resident satisfaction should not be taken as a sign that all is OK.  Residents tend to rationalise their investment in their home.  (check out research on “cognitive dissonance”)


For authorities

  • Refuse schemes on design grounds: the NPPF demands good design as a component of sustainable development: poor and mediocre design is not good design and therefore not sustainable development.
  • Deal with the separation of highways and planning - Highways design and adoption functions should work in a wholly integrated manner with planning
  • Conduct design reviews for all major housing schemes
  • Design should be scrutinised and at all stages during the design and delivery process.


For central government

  • Prescribe densities - NPPF, densities of at least 50 dwellings per hectare that are able to support public transport, and a mix of uses and local facilities
  • Issue guidance on the design of parking
  • Require a place-first approach to highways design


Reflections on the findings

Engineering Myths

There are urban designers throughout England who have worked hard to improve the quality of individual schemes under extreme difficulty, and this survey is not in any way a criticism of their efforts.  In the East Midlands, for example, urban designers have had to battle highway departments promulgating engineering myths, such as:

  • applying the building regulations prohibition on constructing soakaways within 5 metres of the foundations of a building, to the highway, that is no SuDS within 5 metres of the edge of the highway.  Under these circumstances it is almost impossible to incorporate SuDS into a development, (which development plans must require as part of the statutory duty under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase 2004 Section 19 – climate change mitigation and adaptation).  It is likely that the highway authority if taken to judicial review over this point would lose and have to pay substantial costs; but what a pointless task: technical professionals should be competent at their own job, and not need to be educated by urban designers
  • highway staff claiming that they are under a duty to increase the size of streets to accommodate potential future increases in the size of refuse collection vehicles.  There is no such duty.  The opposite applies: highway authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure streets are designed around people who are covered by the Equality Act, including blind people, elderly people, women and so on.



The failure by many highway authorities to follow Manual for Streets has been a major problem, and in the discussion session at the launch event there was talk of a revision of Manual for Streets backed by CPD.  But this is essentially what happened in 2007 when Manual for Streets was launched. It was followed up by nationwide road shows, free events, briefing sheets, summaries and further publications; and yet it has been ignored by most county highway authorities.  One of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  It is insanity to think that what didn’t work in 2007 will for some reason work in 2020.   It won’t.  Phil Jones suggested that Manual for Streets be made mandatory.  But there are no powers to enable a government minister to do this, other than an approach through the common law: that it would be “Wednesbury Unreasonable” for a highway authority not to follow latest guidance or do anything that would hinder a planning authority in discharging its own statutory duties.  Parliamentary time to pass primary legislation would be required.  in a Brexit beset Britain, this may be a forlorn hope.  But why wouldn’t professional highway engineers and highway authorities want to use current best practice?


Professional Conduct and a Role for Professional Institutions as defenders of professional practice

Using current best practice, being up-to-date, and only undertaking work where the professional is competent is a basic requirement of professional codes of conduct.  The codes also require professionals to give accurate and impartial advice, and to ensure the CPD of others for whom they have responsibility, as well as maintaining their own professional reputation and the reputation of the institution.  The CIHT and ICE could point out to their memberships that being competent and up to date involves using Manual for Streets, and not some other discredited and now unlawful 1960s highways practice. The RTPI could ensure that its members in England are fully conversant with the National Planning Policy Framework and the statutory duties on climate change mitigation, and can apply and follow the policies, and discharge the duty, fearlessly.   


At the National Urban Design Conference in 2015 the former Government Construction adviser Paul Morell talked about the report Collaboration for Change (due to be relaunched at Future Build) which makes recommendations on the role of professionals and professional institutions.   He posed the question, when was the last time a member of a professional institution was reported for failing to undertake sustainable development.  The reality of commercial and public practice is that professionals can come under extreme pressure and be subject to bullying that makes observing their code of professional conduct very difficult.  The RTPI requires its members to “exercise fearlessly and impartially their independent professional judgement to the best of their skill and understanding”.  But for some, this course of action would risk the loss of their job, and financial ruin.  Professional institutions have a responsibility to their members to foster an environment in which their members can observe the codes of conduct, and come to their defence when needed. 

A time to act

There is already comprehensive range of best practice guidance, policies, and statutory duties, which if acted upon, would greatly improve the quality and sustainability of development.   


Future generations will judge us not on what we said, but what we did.



Nottingham City Council aims to become first Zero Carbon City in 2028


Nottingham's 2028 Action Plan

Nottingham’s 2028 Carbon Neutral Charter


Nottingham’s efforts are being aided by:


Design Quality Framework

A suite of guides covering housing design, street design, facades, community engagement, etc




A Learning centre for participatory design.



or will Edinburgh or Glasgow get there first?



or Wales? Clean energy to power all new Welsh homes from 2025



or Paris? Phasing Out Cars Key To Paris Mayor’s Plans For 15-Minute City

Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo plans to turn the French capital into a myriad of neighbourhoods where “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.”



Five ways the British landscape changed in 10 years

There are now 4,000 sq km of road in Britain, an increase of nearly 10% since 2010



Living in Addison: An investigation into the lived experience of a master planned housing development in Auckland

A rare example of a post occupancy survey – kindly sent in by Ben van Bruggen



Concerns had been raised over the ability of emergency vehicles to respond to emergency situations in the area owing to the narrowness of streets.  An alternative is to change the vehicles:


Designing vehicles to fit streets designed for people

– Panasonic’s mini-electric fire engine for narrow streets and alleys



City centre underground car park to become urban oasis



Floating neighbourhood proposed in Amsterdam



How ecology and mental health go together in our cities

Can there be a “nature pill” to treat urban ills?




Events update – February - March



UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Gallery, 70 Cowcross St., London EC1M 6EJ  

Wed, 05/02/2020 - 6:15pm - 8:15pm

Our towns, cities, and settlements are shaped by a variety of local forces, design guides, and political aspirations. This can lead to a disparate response to the urban crises we face, and development that at its heart is not contributing to the quality of life of future generations.

This event will explore the role - success and failures - of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in shaping places globally. A role that aims to give authorities a clear and unified mandate and ability to shape places firstly as a catalyst for improved quality of life and a shared and equable future.

You can read more about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals here.

Book Now




The National Design Guide (England)

Urban Room, 38 Carrington St, NG1 7FG Nottingham

Led by Laura Alvarez – Convenor UDG East Midlands

Tue, 25/02/2020 - 10:00am - 4:00pm 


FREE but sadly fully booked with long waiting list




addressing the ‘silos’ with collaborative approaches

International speakers

University of Dundee

Friday 28 February @ 8:30 am - 6:15 pm

Led by Husam Al Wear – Convenor UDG Scotland



  • The case for silo-busting
  • Scottish Government and the scalable ‘place principle’
  • Whole system thinking – responding to climate emergency, mobility, human rights and equality
  • Wellbeing and planning: Designing across the generations for age-friendly places


  • Mobility and Inclusion: Places, Street and Movement
  • Neighbourliness and Social Inclusion: Designing for locally distinctive neighbourhood and towns
  • Keynote: Learning from Utrecht


  • Silo-busting from different starting points (5 workshops on):
  • Integrating movement and place
  • Designing across generations for age-friendly places
  • Placemaking for climate resilience
  • Designing for distinctive, liveable neighbourhoods and towns
  • Transforming our professional culture, skills and place impacts


  • Plenary Discussion / Rapporteurs feedback
  • Keynote from Porto

Followed by Drinks reception


Book Now




The Multi-Level City

10 Mar 2020 - 6:15pm - 8:15pm


As our cities grow up, out and down, it is time we better understood how the different levels of these complex urban environments relate to one another. This event will focus on the competing demands for space in our cities, and consider how we can make best use of what we have available. From rooftops to the subsurface, our speakers will highlight emerging best practice and innovations in the way we plan our cities vertically, and lead a discussion on how we can make sure that we don’t waste the precious space we have available.   


Book Now





Urban Nous videos



Kevin Lynch Memorial Lecture – What neuroscience can tell us about our sense of place and sense of direction – Professor Kate Jeffery, UCL



Streets for people in cities; without pollution or noise

Oliver Sells QC



Central London Walking Network

Dr David Harrison – London Living Streets



Improving the environment for pedestrians

Emma Griffin – London Living Streets



11 presentations from the National Urban Design Conference 2019
– Making People Friendly Planet



The Buildings of London Bridge



Improving the Process used to identify land for development

Paul Reynolds, Urben



Why are well conceived urban design masterplans so rarely realised?

Katja Stille, Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design



Scores of recorded urban design lectures kindly provided by Fergus Carnegie



2019-2020 Events



Transport for New Homes



Transport for New Homes: beyond car-dependence
Thursday 30 January 2020, 6pm – 8pm
The Warehouse, 54-57 Allison Street, Birmingham, B5 5TH


Historic Towns and Villages Forum


Finding New Life for our Heritage Assets
Tuesday 11th February 2020, Kellogg College, Oxford

Character, Quality & Design in Neighbourhood Planning and beyond
Thursday 27 February 2020, Kellogg College, Oxford


Connected Cities

Connected Cities – Metroisation of the Railways

30 March


Frequent rail services everywhere will enable sustainable development where active travel and public transport are the norm.


Speakers include:

  • Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman, Network Rail
  • Martin Tugwell, President, CIHT
  • James Harris, RTPI
  • Richard Simmons, CPRE
  • Jenny Raggett, Transport for New Homes
  • Stephen Pauling, Midlands Connect
  • Simon Elliott, Transport for Greater Manchester
  • Nicholas Falk, URBED
  • David Biggs, Network Rail Property
  • Martin Chatfield, Thameslink (TBC)
  • Andreas Markides, Past President, CIHT



The Heritage Alliance – Heritage Day - 26 February



Urban Design London



Designing Liveable Neighbourhoods Day

4 February


Designing Town Centres and High Streets

Wednesday 12 February 2020


Academy of Urbanism


Homes and Neighbourhoods for All – Urbanism and Affordable Housing in the UK

12 February


Cities on the Waterfront

6 March – Limerick



3-5 March


Institution of Chartered Foresters

Trees, People and the Built Environment

22-23 April - Birmingham



Centre for Cities


Cities Outlook 2020

27 January 2020  @ City Hall, London


Civic Voice



Future of London


City Makers Forum: Net Zero – Responding to a Climate Emergency
29 January, 6:15-8:30 pm
Registration opens soon


Good Homes Alliance



Kent Design


Introduction to Water Sensitive Design

15 January


Introduction to Housing Types and Tenures

28 Feb


Design Brighton




Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire Berkshire Milton Keynes


Oxford Brookes


Landscape Institute



Digital Integration and Transformation

28 January 2020, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm


Landscape and Place Convention
Birmingham, 2-3 July 2020


London Living Streets


Nottingham Urban Room



Co-PLACE Launch & Awareness Briefing

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

1:30 PM 3:30 PM


National Design Guide

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

10:00 AM 4:00 PM


Association of Regional Urban Design Officers


Place Alliance




Royal Town Planning Institute


RTPI West Midlands Urban Design Forum - January meeting

28 January


Climate Emergency – What next for the UK?

27 February


Transport Planning Society


Low carbon planning - possible or flippant? Swindon 26 Mar 2020

Thursday 26th March 2020 10:00 to 16:00


Museum of Walking


Walks continue through February


Healthy City Design 2019

Designing for utopia or dystopia?

People and planetary health at a crossroads

Selection of presentations available to download



Connected Cities

Connected Cities – Metroisation of the Railways

30 March




Future Streets 2020

A better balance between people and vehicles

27 Feb 2020 Arup, 8 Fitzroy Square, W1T 4BQ London







Graduate Urban Designer - Planit-IE

Greater Manchester - Altrincham


Urban Designer - Planit-IE



Urban Designer – Terence O’Rourke Ltd



Senior Urban Designer / Associate - Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design



Urban Designer - Pegasus Group



Urban Designers (all Senior levels) - Pegasus Group

The Solent Area


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