National Planning Policy Framework - Draft - thoughts from urban designers...

Here is a collection of thoughts on the NPPF that have been developed by a number urban design pracitioners over recent weeks.  Why not add your thoughts at the discussion box below?  (you will need to register first)

The importance of the NPPF

The NPPF will become the main planning document for authorities who don’t have a local plan or core strategy in place, and there may be many of these.  The Framework will be used in Planning inquiries, and the meaning will be examined in close detail.  It is therefore vital that the wording and definitions are unambiguous and robust. 


Evidence Based Policy and Plans

To support evidence based local plans, the NPPF should itself refer to an evidence base for the policies it advocates.

There are existing and well-tried guidance documents that should be referenced

Documents include: the Manual for Streets series, By-Design, the Urban Design Compendium.


Job creation and the planning system – the contribution of cities, the contribution of quality design and quality places

The greatest contribution that the planning system can make to job creation is by ensuring high quality towns and cities.  These should be places where people will want to live, work and invest.  Poor and mediocre development undermine this..  The role of cities is underplayed in the draft document, which addresses itself more to issues relating to development in the countryside, which while important, amounts to only a few percent of gross domestic product.   


Quality of design and sustainable development are indivisible – not separate subjects.

Planning is indivisible from design and the draft NPPF  should unite design and sustainable development. There are further opportunities here for simplification and consolidation

Quality design means:

  • design that is functional and enables efficient operation of the economy
  • design that is attractive
  • design that is sustainable,

There is an opportunity to underline the importance of integrating transport and land-use planning, which in the current draft are treated separately.   The highways component of the transport system also represents the bulk of England’s public realm.   The planning policy framework should specifically address the balancing of movement and place.


Which developments should be refused?  
: is poor and mediocre design acceptable?

The NPPF states that:  

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

Although the intention of the NPPF is no doubt to ensure quality architectural and urban design, this sentence will do much to undermine it, implying as it does that design that is merely mediocre, or poor, as opposed to “obviously poor”, should be approved.   The wording needs to be tightened and clear definitions given, to avoid chaos in the planning system and an erosion of the quality of our towns and cities. 


Which developments should be approved?
Presumption in favour of sustainable development

This presumption will form the basis of the operation of the planning system, and the question of what is and is not “sustainable development” will be key.  It is strongly recommended that a consistent, simple and robust test for sustainable development is used, so that planning authorities and developers have a clear understanding of whether a development is likely to obtain permission.

There are simple and effective systems for assessing the quality of development including

Building for Life

OurPlace – 2011 Urban design award winner

Design Quality Reviewer  - HCA


Code for Sustainable Homes

In the definition of sustainable development offered,

Planning for prosperity – the definition omits the role of quality architectural and urban design in creating the towns and cities that will attract employment and investment.  Quality of design is the mark of prosperity.


Transport– should be integrated with planning

The objectives posed for transport policy miss out on the place and public health agendas.  There is no reason why planning and transport policy should not have the same objectives.   These are major omissions, and without them, it means that the transport policy cannot be described as sustainable by any conventional understanding of sustainability.


Quality design, and sustainable development requires skill and sufficient time

Planning clients need to employ designers and give them sufficient latitude to suggest how a site or area can best be developed. Local councils need design skills in situ within their departments. Councillors who are design champions need to be adequately trained and supported, so that they can provide leadership in delivering quality places, and creating a culture of municipal entrepreneurialism within the areas they represent. Local panels can resource local design skills amongst the population. This application of skills in practice needs to be a priority if well designed, sustainable development is to be realised.