Urban Update 31 January 2020



31 January 2020


  • BBBC Report Published – Living with Beauty
  • Best urban design to reduce traffic injuries;
  • Design for children
  • Building for a New Urban Mobility
  • 174 years of house price data and affordability
  • 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




Living with Beauty

Final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission



The report proposes a planning and development framework which will 

  • Ask for Beauty
  • Refuse Ugliness
  • Promote Stewardship

It offers:

Beauty at three scales

Beautifully placed (sustainable settlement patterns  sitting in the landscape)

Beautiful places (streets, squares and parks, the "spirit of place")

Beautiful buildings (windows, materials,  proportion, space)

8 priorities for reform under the themes of

Planning, Neighbourhoods, Regeneration, Communities, Management, Education, Stewardship, Nature.

44 policy propositions

Appendix including research by Knight Frank on development risk, and attitudes to quality.

Priorities for Reform:

Planning: create a predictable level playing field – Beautiful placemaking should be a legally required aim of the planning system, reflected in the NPPF, and local plans.  Schemes should be turned down for being too ugly and such rejections should be publicised.  The planning system needs to become more predictable, and more accessible to a wider range of firms, organisations and individuals to enable them to enter the development market.  Planning rules should be enforced.

Communities: bring the democracy forward – the local plan process should be more democratic, with local people strongly involved; plans should be more visual, and easy for the public to understand.  Attractiveness should be a primary consideration.

Stewardship: incentivise responsibility to the future. – address the short-term profit focus of the development industry. Change the legal and tax systems to encourage long-term stewardship; introduce a ‘stewardship kitemark’ which can end tax disincentives to a long-term approach and possibly give access to longer term finance.

Regeneration: end the scandal of ‘left-behind’ places.   Ensure development contributes to places rather than parasitizes.   Government should go beyond investing in in roads or shiny ‘big box’ infrastructure.   In central government a member of the Cabinet should have responsibility for ensuring and coordinating standards in housing, nature and infrastructure.  Each council should have a Chief Placemaker as a senior member of the officer team, and a cabinet member with responsibility for placemaking.  VAT on new building and refurbishment should be aligned.

Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses.  Create mixed-use “real place” development with gentle density – (eg 5 stories) and streets, squares and blocks with clear backs and fronts.  Permit intensification where there is public consent.

Nature: re-green our towns and cities.  Plant 2 million street trees within 5 years; a fruit tree for every home.  The NPPF should place a greater focus on access to nature and green spaces.   Green spaces, waterways and wildlife habitats should be seen as integral to the urban fabric

Education and skills: promote a wider understanding of placemaking.  Invest in the education of professionals and councillors. Crucial areas include placemaking, the history of architecture and design, popular preferences and (above all) the associations of urban form and design with well-being and health.  Consider alternative pathways into architecture.

Management: value planning, count happiness, procure properly.  To make the planning system more efficient, introduce a more rules-based approach, move the democracy forward, have clearer form-based codes, and limits to the length of planning applications; digitise and automate.    Moderate permitted development rights with quality standards.  Change the corporate performance targets for Homes England, and the highways, housing and planning teams in central government and councils - objective measures for well-being, public health, nature recovery and beauty (measured inter alia via popular support). Measure quality and outcomes as well as quantity.


Selected extracts

“We are critical of the existing practice of treating highway design as an issue separate from placemaking; we are concerned that recent government support for house-building has often failed to create successful new places; and we question the effect of the National Infrastructure Commission, which constitutes a new tier of deliberation tending to undermine existing attempts to harmonise the factors involved in placemaking.”

“There is no beauty in a child having to use a car park as a play area”

“..the issue of who initiates a new town, and who oversees the masterplanning that will be needed, have not been seriously addressed, at least since the planning of Milton Keynes, one of the last New Towns in our country. There is therefore a danger that large-scale developments will slip out of any kind of integrated control, to be constructed without reference to their beauty or other planning constraints.  This is indeed what many fear we are seeing with the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Arc, in which new towns risk coming into being purely as spores thrown out by infrastructure, the by-products of road and rail communication.”

“The first study into the disconnect between architecture and non-architecture building preferences by David Halpern found that the consistently least popular of 12 buildings to non-architecture students was the most and second most popular among two groups of architecture students.”

“The teaching of urban design principles and practice on both architecture and planning courses could be strengthened, to increase an appreciation of context and sustainable development.”

“Many planning schools do no actual “‘designing” with their students and only teach a rudimentary design appreciation [...] urban design is typically seen as a specialism rather than a common grounding that all built environment students should cover.”

“Urban design matters for health and happiness – and more people should understand why”


What happens next?

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick in his welcoming speech at the launch event said that beautiful, high-quality homes must become the norm, not the exception. Other issues picked up included: fast-track for beauty; planting more trees; zero carbon homes as standard within 5 years; local authorities playing their role as place-makers and having the skills to do it.  There was some commitment to establishing a body to assist with the implementation of the findings.


But this falls short of an acceptance of the need to address deep-rooted problems in land-use and transport planning and highway design, that are making a mockery of the NPPF objective of sustainable development.  Issues include:

  • Breach of statutory duty on climate change – Client Earth has 100 English planning authorities on notice of judicial review
  • Unsustainable location and strategic urban design - RTPI surveys and reports by Transport for New Homes highlight the failure of the planning system to ensure that new housing is built near transport nodes, or with realistic alternatives to car ownership and use.  The result is high energy dependency, and high carbon emissions.
  • Disregard of NPPF - Last week’s UCL-Place Alliance Survey concluded that 75 percent of the housing developments assessed should not have been given planning permission.
  • Disregard of Government street design guidance - The UDG’s own survey on Street Design concluded that around 80 percent of highway authorities were still using street design standards based on withdrawn and discredited 1960s practice, now made unlawful following the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty.
  • Lack of Skills - The UDG funded UCL urban design skills survey which found widespread shortages in local authorities.  A planning system and good design requires people to do it.  Officers need to be up to speed; councillors and cabinet portfolio holders need to have been briefed on current best practice, and know what is reasonable to demand of designers and developers.  


Popular Press Coverage – Standard – Telegraph






Sir Roger Scruton

Sir Roger Scruton, who died earlier in January, was sacked as unpaid chair of the Commission in April 2019 following the circulation of selective quotes from an interview with the New Statesman that misrepresented what he had actually said.  In July 2019 he was reinstated as chair, following an apology from the New Statesman, and Housing Secretary James Brockenshire MP.


A number of lectures by Sir Roger Scruton can be viewed on Youtube, and the full transcript of the New Statesman interview is available on the link below.



In a world polluted by 280 character populist opinion, we still have the opportunity to have our own opinions based on our own judgement, if we are prepared to invest the time.  





Built Environment

Building for a New Urban Mobility – Centre for London Report warns that car dependence is being built into new development in London

  • New housing developments are more likely than existing housing to feature car parking, and their residents are more likely to own a car.
  • Many residents use cars frequently, even in areas with good access to public transport.

The report makes the case for “New Urban Mobility” a mix of active travel and public transport, prioritised in Masterplans and Street Design, plus consolidating local freight to reduce the number of delivery vehicles, vehicle sharing etc.


Key Barriers to New Urban Mobility are:

  • Lack of priority given in planning applications.
  • Lack of expertise on with “highways” teams often focused on facilitating car movement.
  • Outdated assumptions and expectations in transport plans.
  • Short-term approaches to development and management, such as inflexible and incompatible construction materials and systems.
  • Insufficient monitoring of new development after completion.




Making London Child-Friendly
Designing places and streets for children and young people  

This new report, backed by the Mayor of London, makes a case for giving greater regard to children in design.  There is useful background data, references and guidance on measuring independent mobility in children.  The report contains plenty of examples for residential streets, and within housing estates, but needs to expand to cover the entire urban area.  Children as part of their normal daily life may have to use and cross main streets and high streets, and have every right to use them.



The core problem with the existence of this type of document is that it is forms an isolated part of a system where children are treated as an add-on, rather than factored into mainstream design.  What is needed is not guidance on designing places and streets for children as a niche topic, but standard design guidance where the needs and abilities and safety of children are the overriding design imperative.  This is what the Common Law Duty of Care demands: Highway Authorities owe a duty to all road users (whether careful or negligent) to use reasonable care in the manner in which they exercise their powers when they create and maintain the highway.  (Yetkin v Newham 2010) Children are nowhere near as good as adults at judging the speed and distance of oncoming traffic.  They may register a vehicle travelling towards them at over 20mph as not moving at all.   Their joie de vivre places them at additional risk of making rash, rather than calculated movement. 


UDG Treasurer Katja Stille, at the 2019 National Urban Design Conference made an appeal that we should have:

  • Streets for seven year olds
  • Neighbourhoods for nine year olds, and
  • Towns for twelve year olds.

The UDG will run a conference on child-centred urban design in the spring.


Climate Change

Could Personal 'Carbon Accounts' Decelerate Climate Change?



Fuel cell powertrains 'could be as cheap as petrol in five years', says BMW's hydrogen VP



Half of councils unsure of their carbon footprint – according to Freedom of Information Survey


Overall, 93 out of 214 local authorities (43 per cent) said that they did not measure all energy use in relation to their built assets, which include housing, facilities, offices and other council-owned buildings.

47 per cent of councils said that they did not have a plan in place for reducing the carbon emissions resulting from their built assets.

49 councils (23 per cent of the survey) stated that they would be carbon neutral by 2030. However, 11 of these 49 councils did not currently know their own carbon footprint.




A car-free future? How UK cities are moving towards a pedestrian age



How safe is walking and cycling in Europe? European Transport Safety Council study


At least 51,300 pedestrians and 19,450 cyclists were killed on EU roads over the period 2010 to 2018. 

  • 99 percent of pedestrian deaths in the EU, and 87 percent of cyclist deaths are the result of a collision with a motor vehicle
  • 70% of road deaths in European cities are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists
  • People over 65 years old represent 20% of the EU population but account for as many as 47% of all pedestrian deaths and 44% of all cyclist deaths in the EU.


The Netherlands and Denmark enable a large amount of comparatively safe cycling and walking – other countries in Europe have a long way to go. The UK is one of only three EU nations where pedestrian casualties rose in last decade.


Recommendations include:

  • Develop a policy of modal priority for road users, particularly in urban areas, the hierarchy being based on safety, vulnerability and sustainability. Walking should be at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cycling and use of public transport.  (The UK has this both in government planning and highways guidance, but this is largely ignored, with some highway authorities negligently placing the accommodation of refuse collection vehicles above the safety of pedestrians and cyclists).
  • Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans closely linked to road safety priorities.
  • 30 km/h speed limits
  • Safe pedestrian crossings, junctions, and footways
  • According to the Safe System approach, cyclists should not mix with motor vehicle traffic where motor vehicle speeds exceed 30 km/h.  Provide separate cycling infrastructure on the roads with the highest speeds and those with the highest volumes
  • Intensify traffic law enforcement, especially for speeding in urban areas, where there are high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists.


People living in UK towns and cities 25 times more likely to die from air pollution than car crash



  • But are motor-vehicles the greater threat to life and health?
    The average age of someone who dies in a car crash is around 38 years, not even half way through their expected life-span.  Add in the people who suffer lifechanging and life-shortening injuries then, in terms of total years of life lost, and people who avoid walking or cycling for fear of road danger, road traffic accidents are more serious than air pollution. It is vital that we address both.

What is the best form of urban design for reducing road injuries


Combining more public transport and rail networks with smaller, low speed blocks are the best to reduce road transport injuries, according to a new global study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health


Professional Practice

The despot dilemma: should architects work for repressive regimes?

A choice of integrity or hypocrisy?  To what extent should principles be sacrificed?

What can one say of signatories of the “Architects Declare” manifesto, pledging to advocate for low-carbon, eco-friendly development – who go on to design an airport?



Politics, Philosophy, Economics

What 174 years of data tell us about house price affordability in the UK

An article that addresses the question of which is the better investment: stocks and shares, or houses.   It identifies housing supply, reduced size of houses, changes in relative income levels and the impact of interest rates and the affordability of mortgages as core factors behind movements in the price of housing.




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.


Paul Renolds  Urben

Christopher Martin  Urban Movement

Camilla Ween UK Design Council Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment

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 currently fully booked – but we are hoping to find a larger venue


Book Now





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




UCL-Place Alliance  Housing Design Quality Audit


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




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



Civic Voice



Future of London



Good Homes Alliance



Kent Design



Introduction to Housing Types and Tenures

28 Feb


Design Brighton




Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire Berkshire Milton Keynes


Oxford Brookes


Landscape Institute



Landscape and Place Convention
Birmingham, 2-3 July 2020


London Living Streets


Nottingham Urban Room



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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