A Design For Life – Why Discussions on Good Design are Critical for Developers

As a Passivhaus social housing development in Norwich wins the Stirling Prize and Government launches the National Design GuideBECG asks: is good design critical for planning permission? 

The Goldsmith Street development in Norwich was crowned the winner of the prestigious Stirling Prize earlier this month, and it’s hard not to be impressed by it. 

It’s not a pretentious trophy building – it’s an excellent, ordinary housing development for hundreds of families to enjoy. 

Built to the highest environmental ‘Passivhaus’ standards, the Goldsmith Street development provides over 100 homes, and energy bills around 70% lower than the average across the country. The gardens and landscaped walkways provide secure spaces for families to enjoy together, and it’s proper social, affordable housing, available to everyone in society, delivered by the Council. 

It also looks beautiful. Not ‘beautiful for social housing’, but really very impressively designed, regardless of tenure. A BBC interview with a new Goldsmith Street tenant this week showed a mother beaming from ear to ear with her new home. It’s no surprise – anyone would be proud to live there. 

Goldsmith Street is clearly a very specific case however, which took 10 years to reach fruition, and had a lot of backing from the Council. 

The question is how we embed the principles underpinning developments likes these into new private developments and garden towns, without placing an undue financial burden on developers.  

National Design Guide sets high new standards
Enter the National Design Guide. Spearheaded by new Government Architecture ace Andy Von Bradsky, the new National Design Guide: Planning Practice Guidance for Beautiful, Enduring and Successful Places aims to set out and embed “the Government’s priorities for well-designed places”. 

Forming part of the Planning Practice Guidance, the guide introduces 10 characteristics that make a well-designed place and create a sense of community, including ‘built form’, ‘movement’ ‘nature’ and ‘public spaces’. 

Andy, who is delivering a talk for BECG on the new Design Guide on Thursday 24th October, says a new Model Design Code will also be published in the New Year, and will set out a clear model for promoting a better design of homes across the country, shaped by what local people want. 

Councils will now be expected to develop their own design codes, and the guide reiterates the NPPF is clear that permission should be refused for developments that fail to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions. 

Some Councils are ahead of others in getting their own plans in place. 

The Essex Design Guide, first published in 1973, won the award for Design Excellence at the 2019 Planning Awards and has led the way in the planning and development sectors for urban design and place making guidance.  

Peter Dawson, Built Environment Manager of Place Services said: 

“The new Essex Design Guide has been transformed to create a web portal that is ‘future-proofed’, embracing design challenges and opportunities by incorporating the themes of Health and Wellbeing, Active Design, Ageing Populations, Digital and Smart Technology and Garden Communities.   

“As a result, Essex is witnessing an increase in the quality of new developments and communities. We’re demonstrating local authority leadership and creating places where people want to live and where businesses want to invest. 

Essex is ahead of the curve, but we will undoubtedly see more and more Design Guides being unveiled across the country in the coming months. It is clearly a critical time for developers to have early, honest conversations with communities, Councillors and planners about what they see as good design for their area, so design is not used as a blunt weapon to reject applications at a late stage for arbitrary reasons. 

BECG will be hosting Andy Von Bradsky, Wayne Hemingway MBE and Jackie Doyle Price MP for a Breakfast Roundtable on Thursday 24th October to discuss “Building Better Homes in Essex” . Places are limited – contact Dan Fryd for details.