Colchester Tendring and Essex selected to trial new design code

Wednesday June 23 2021

In response to the Living In Beauty report, 14 English local authorities have been chosen to pilot the National Model Design Code (NMDC) which is intended to ensure developments are beautiful and in keeping with local character.

Under the scheme, each council will receive a grant of £50,000 to cover the costs of implementing the reforms. Local authorities will be required to establish their own unique design codes taking factors like street character, façades, local heritage, the natural environment and wellbeing into account.

While few would question the intentions behind the move (who doesn’t want the built environment to be beautiful?) the plans have drawn criticism.

Too long, too descriptive, hard to resource and implement are just some examples of such criticism. And how will councils ensure representative engagement? Who’s to say what is beautiful and what isn’t in the subjective world of architecture?

Well, you can never please everyone. Supporters of the NMDC would suggest that the existing central controls for building planning are undemocratic and would point to the fact that the new plans encourage councils to seek input from local residents when creating their codes.

Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher said that the NMDC “will enable local people to set the rules for what developments in their area should look like, ensuring that they reflect and enhance their surroundings and preserve our local character and identity.  Instead of developers forcing plans on locals, they will need to adapt to proposals from local people, ensuring that current and new residents alike will benefit from beautiful homes in well-designed neighbourhoods.”

So, will the scheme work? Will more local control help to improve the aesthetic quality and consistency of regional architecture? A trial seems like a good way to find out.

“The outcomes from this first set of pilots will help to build the capacity and collective learning that we need across the sector,” says Anna Rose, the Head of the Planning Advisory Service. “I am looking forward to seeing what councils can achieve.”

Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) agrees, describing the trials as “a pragmatic way of identifying problems that may arise in the application of the code.”

But she adds words of caution: “substantial extra investment into the planning system will be needed if planners are to play their part fully.”

Hills points out that 90% of RTPI members say they want to prioritise beauty but lack the policy support and the resources to do so.

“It is only through significantly increased funding for local authority planning teams that the government’s ambitions for design codes in every council will be realised.”

Central to the NMDC system are national baseline standards and a toolkit to help guide local authorities through the transition phase.

Guy Bollen, The TP Group’s Managing Director had this to say: “the NMDC has the potential to drive up quality and design in regional developments. I’m very excited to see how the pilot scheme unfolds in the local Essex area. For a company like ours which takes such pride in the quality of our work and goes to such lengths to find the best possible design solutions, the intentions behind these plans resonate clearly with our own company values.”

No matter what you’re planning, or what kind of building code you’re working to, The TP Group will help you find a solution that’s beautiful and practical in equal measure.

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