Building better places Contents

Chapter 3: Creating better places: design, quality and standards

60.The UK is home to some of the world’s leading architects and designers, and to some of the leading educational institutions in the field. We were told that UK schools of architecture were “probably the best in the world” and that they attracted students from across the globe.45 Across all continents, British architects have often been commissioned for significant, landmark projects that deliver an enduring legacy.

61.Why, then, is the standard of so much development in England so bad? While one-off (typically high profile) examples of exceptional practice exist, much of the recent development that shapes our towns and cities has often been of a quality that is too low. We were told, for example, that “the English will spare no expense to get something on the cheap”.46 Prof Peter Bishop suggested that:

“In particular provincial towns and the suburbs, what you see is largely 25 or 30 years old or less and, generally speaking, of quite extraordinary poor quality, and uncoordinated as well”.47

This view was echoed by Sunand Prasad, who told us:

“We have very little to be proud of in the mass housing built even in the past 30 years. There are very few places of which you can genuinely say of them that the results of the planning system, the architecture and the patronage, whether public or private, are something to be proud of, to leave behind as heritage”.48

62.This was a consistent theme throughout much of the evidence that we heard; many witnesses told us that the design, quality and standard of much recent development is simply not good enough. The coordination between different aspects of the built environment is, in places, sadly lacking.

63.At the heart of these considerations is the relationship between places and people; DCLG told us that public recognition of good design, and better design standards more generally, were important factors in encouraging community acceptance of new development.49 Those built environments that suffer from poor design standards and a lack of cohesion can, of course, have the opposite effect. A poor built environment, moreover, has the potential to exert significant long-term negative impacts on the health, safety, prosperity and wellbeing of those who live and work within it.50

64.We believe that, as a nation, we need to recognise the power of place and to be much more ambitious when planning, designing, constructing and maintaining our built environment. Failure to do so will result in significant long-term costs. We now set out some of the important measures that need to be taken to achieve this aim.

The need for national leadership and co-ordination

Joining-up Government and providing leadership

65.We believe that the leadership required to deliver an improvement to our built environment can only come from Government. There are, however, a number of challenges that first need to be overcome.

66.As detailed in Chapter Two, policy towards the built environment in England is fragmented across a number of Government departments. The Farrell Review highlighted five departments that currently play a key role:

67.Two further departments could be added to this list. Much significant recent policy concerning the built environment—such as the Fixing the Foundations paper—has emerged from HM Treasury, and the Treasury operates numerous economic levers that can affect the built environment. In addition, the Department of Health plays a key role in addressing the burden of poorly performing built environments. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) told us that the Department of Health should be more closely involved in decision making “to improve the effects of policies for the built environment on other areas of public policy”.51

68.The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) told us that they could “find no evidence of an overall coordination of policy on the built environment” and that “on the contrary, relationships between some Government departments on key policies such as building standards, renewable energy and green infrastructure appear to be strained or absent”.52 A lack of co-ordination across the many Government departments involved in the built environment was a consistent theme in evidence, with witnesses identifying the difficulties and confusion caused by a lack of integration.53

69.We considered possible solutions to this situation. Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones, of Newcastle University, told us that: “This can be co-ordinated only by the Cabinet Office. It cannot be coordinated by different spending departments; we need a synoptic vision of the spatial impact of their different policies”.54 Dr Tim Brown, of De Montfort University, suggested that the Cabinet Office should publish guidance on areas of built environment policy overlap between departments, setting out how such issues are dealt with within Government.55

70.A key recommendation of the 2014 Farrell Review was the appointment of a Chief Architect, “reporting to DCMS and DCLG at the highest level”. The review suggested that the role “should be similar to the Chief Planner and Chief Construction Adviser, connecting up government departments and maintaining high standards and consistency of approach”.56

71.We considered the proposal for a Chief Architect with a number of our witnesses. Former RIBA President Sunand Prasad told us that he was in favour of such an appointment, based within DCLG and tasked with “joining up with planners and constructors”.57 Quinlan Terry CBE told us that, as an architect, he was against the proposal:

“If you made me chief architect I would have a field day; if you made Richard Rogers chief architect he would do the complete opposite. Do not trust architects, because they are very opinionated people”.58

72.RIBA told the Committee that they instead favoured an appointment with a focus that was not restricted solely to architecture, and recommended the creation of a Chief Built Environment Adviser role. It was suggested that such a person could co-ordinate policy across the relevant departments, pursue a joined-up approach to procurement, prevent contradictions in policy between different departments and lead the country by example in good practice in design.59 Evidence from the RICS, the Edge and the Urban Design Group all supported the call for a Chief Built Environment Adviser.60 The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers also supported the call for a Chief Built Environment Adviser, suggesting that the arrangements for such a post should be similar to the Chief Scientific Adviser model.61

73.In addition to co-ordination across Government, however, there is a further capacity issue at the national level. There had, since the establishment of the Royal Fine Art Commission in 1924, been a body in place to provide advice to the Government on matters of design, architecture and public space. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), established in 1999, was the successor to the Royal Fine Art Commission. By June 2010 CABE employed over 120 staff, had a network of around 400 design advisers and was in receipt of over £11million in total funding from DCMS and DCLG.62 The Commission was an influencer, rather than a regulator; its funding equated to only around 0.02% of the £60,000 million spent on new construction in England each year.63 Both CABE and the Royal Fine Art Commission worked at arms-length from Government, operating with a strong degree of independence and capable of providing challenge where necessary.

74.The CABE Annual Report for 2009/10 states that the organisation undertook 324 design reviews, delivered training on design to 82% of local authorities and supported 40 local public space projects.64 CABE was wound up in April 2011, with some transitional funding provided to Design Council CABE to establish a commercial design review function. Current design review arrangements are considered in more detail later in this chapter.

75.We were told that the demise of CABE had marked the withdrawal of Government from a leading role in the design and place agenda. The Institute for Historic Building Conservation told us that a new body to replace CABE was urgently needed.65 Urban Vision Enterprise emphasised the economic rationale for investing in ‘place’, stating that the decision to cut CABE funding was “due to a failure to appreciate the relationship between quality of place and an areas ability to attract investment, employment, population and visitors”.66 MADE West Midlands suggested that:

“There has been a loss of leadership since the old CABE disappeared. In our view, out in the field, away from the architectural press and the sort of discussions that go on at high level, what is missed most about CABE is that leadership: the bringing together of knowledge, the publications, and the guidance and training that used to come out, rather than design review”.67

76.Professor Peter Bishop suggested that the loss of CABE had left gaps, noting that it had served as a central repository of information and, also, as a body that could undertake independent research on behalf of Government.68 Individuals and organisations within the sector have subsequently sought to collaborate to fill these gaps and, also, to take ownership of the place quality agenda, as was emphasised in evidence from the Place Alliance.69

77.We were told that the loss of CABE could be addressed through the establishment of a small, strategic, successor body, under the funding of one Government department. It was suggested that the body could provide advice to Government, act as a focus for continuing debate on improving the built environment and commission independent research on specific built environment issues.70 The Edge suggested the following priorities for such a team:

“They need mainly to commission a certain amount of good guidance that aids the sector … During CABE’s most successful years, it produced the most amazing amount of very useful guidance for all parts of the sector which is still relied on”.71

78.There are two critical elements currently missing in national policy for the built environment. There is an urgent need for much greater co-ordination and integration across the multiple Government departments that effect and respond to the built environment. There is also a need for a national organisation with the capacity to undertake research, develop guidance and build the networks necessary to raise standards and drive better performance. Solving the first of these problems requires access to Government, while delivering against the second objective requires a degree of independence from it.

79.We believe it is helpful at this point to draw a comparison with the work of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) and the Government Office for Science, both of which play an important role in co-ordinating science policy across Government, researching and promulgating good practice and developing and leading networks within and outside Government.

80.The GCSA has a close working relationship with the Science Minister, and engages directly with Secretaries of State, other ministers and permanent secretaries across Whitehall. He reports, however, to the Cabinet Secretary, which enhances his capacity to operate with a degree of latitude and independence. The GCSA leads the Government Office for Science, which is physically located within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but is autonomous from it.72

81.The GCSA chairs networks which promote scientific evidence and research across Government, and develops guidance to ensure a coherent cross-Whitehall approach to science matters. The Government Office for Science is responsible for major programmes of work—such as the Foresight series of reports—which have drawn upon extensive nationwide networks to provide evidence-led, independent analysis of some of the major challenges facing the country. Through engagement with the Global Science and Innovation Network the GCSA also has access to leading international research and best practice.

82.This model is helpful, as it combines access to Government with access to expertise and networks of knowledge, both at home and abroad. The model is able to deliver influential horizon scanning work, develop good practice and drive high standards. This work is all carried out within a framework which provides leverage but respects the need for independence where necessary.

83.The built environment cuts across a number of central Government departments and our evidence has demonstrated that integration of policy is sadly lacking. We believe that the Cabinet Office should initially play a greater role in addressing policy coordination in this field, by reviewing areas of policy overlap between different departments and publishing definitive guidance on the division of responsibilities.

84.To deliver longer-term coordination we recommend the appointment of a Chief Built Environment Adviser, a recognised expert appointed from within the sector to lead this work at an official level. The role of the Chief Built Environment Adviser would be to co-ordinate relevant policy across central Government departments, to act as a champion for higher standards and to promote good practice across and beyond Government. The status and reporting arrangements of the Chief Built Environment Adviser should be broadly equivalent to those of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

85.In addition, we believe that some of the key functions carried out by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment have been lost. This is to the long-term detriment of the built environment. We recommend that the Government should establish and fund a small, strategic unit to conduct, commission and disseminate research and guidance on architecture and design within the built environment. This new unit should be led by the Chief Built Environment Adviser, and should have access to expertise, research and insight from across and beyond Government.

86.We recommend that the Chief Built Environment Adviser should produce an annual report providing high-level monitoring of quality and delivery within the built environment, and establishing priorities for research, policy and action. The annual reports should be laid before Parliament as Command Papers.

Government strategy on architecture and construction

87.There is, at present, no high-level statement of policy for architecture in England. Northern Ireland published an architecture policy in 2006, and Scotland published its own policy—on architecture and place—in 2013.73 These policies set out broad principles of good design and highlight the qualities of successful places; they do not provide prescriptive, ‘top down’ instruction on detailed design criteria. They express aspirations for the built environment, identify good practice and its benefits and highlight the long-term value—in economic, cultural, social and health terms—of designing good places.

88.We were told that RIBA had previously called for the adoption of a national architecture policy.74 Many European countries have such a policy, setting out a vision intended to deliver higher standards of new development. In Building a Better Britain, published in 2014, RIBA highlighted the success of architecture policies in Denmark and other north-western European countries. They argued that:

“We need a similar, long-term political commitment to the improvement of our towns and cities, buildings and public spaces, communities and businesses by recognising the added value of design quality in delivering sustainable and resilient places that people can be proud of”.75

89.We believe it is important that the Government sets high standards for the built environment, and provides the vision, aspiration and leadership to enable others to deliver against those standards. We recommend that the Government should publish, consult on and adopt a high level policy for architecture and place quality in England. Following adoption, the policy should be monitored and reviewed at regular intervals. Publication of this policy should be an early priority for the Chief Built Environment Adviser who should, thereafter, keep it under review.

90.The Government is one of the most important built environment ‘clients’ in the country. Its approach to construction procurement is set out in the Government Construction Strategy, last published in 2011.76 A number of spending departments, and major institutions such as the NHS, play a key part in the development of large sites and built environment projects. We were told77 that the Department of Health, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice and Department of Education “spend billions of pounds on construction” and that this could amount to a total of around one quarter of all UK expenditure on construction.78 In Quarter 2 of 2015 the public sector accounted for £5.8 billion (26%) of construction orders.79

91.The Government, therefore, has the potential to lead from the front on construction standards, and to set a high standard for new developments. Sunand Prasad suggested that the Government should revise its approach to construction procurement and that “if every one of those projects set out to be exemplary in the way they are commissioned and the client side is handled, government would revolutionise our world. It would have a knock-on effect and set such high standards”.80 The Construction Industry Council supported this, calling for a cross-Government drive towards new, outcome-led procurement models with a clear business case for value.81

92.It is important to note, in this context, that ‘value-for-money’ does not always equate to choosing the cheapest option. A 2012 report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment recommended that public sector construction projects should be procured on the basis of integrated teams (designers, contractors and asset managers). The report stated that:

“Selection of an integrated team must not be made on the basis of lowest price but … on the basis of a balanced scorecard; that is, marking the bid against specified criteria, of which sustainability should be one”.82

93.We believe that the Government, and other major public sector commissioners, must lead by example and set the highest possible standards in major construction projects. We recommend that the Government Construction Strategy should be reviewed. This review should acknowledge and emphasise the Government’s leadership role in these matters, and set out measures and mechanisms for implementing high standards of public procurement in construction projects, seeking to balance place and quality with value.

Places and people

Health and the built environment

94.The places that we create have a profound effect upon the quality of life, behaviours and experiences of people who live and work in them. In recent years policy and guidance has acknowledged this through initiatives and standards such as Secured by Design and Building for Life.

95.Links between the built environment and healthy lifestyles and outcomes were emphasised throughout our inquiry. Public Health England told us that:

“Some of the UK’s most pressing health challenges—such as obesity, mental health issues, physical inactivity and the needs of an ageing population—can all be influenced by the quality of our built and natural environment”.83

They went on to state that the estimated cost of physical inactivity was £7.4 billion per year, and the cost to the NHS of obesity was £5.1 billion.84 There is, therefore, a strong economic rationale for addressing obesogenic and poorly planned environments. The economic case does not, furthermore, rest solely on health benefits; previous DCLG research has suggested that improved design standards could save £530 million per annum through increasing community cohesion and reducing crime.85

Figure 3: The impacts of the built environment on health

Grpahic highl;ighting the various impacts on health from the built environment

Source: Written evidence from Public Health England (which itself cites Rao et al, 2007) (BEN0186)

96.Recent years have seen improved recognition of the relationship between planning, the built environment and health. The National Planning Policy Framework included a dedicated section setting out health policies for application in local planning documents. Witnesses welcomed this86; there were concerns, however, that decisions did not always take full account of health impacts.87 The Landscape Institute suggested that:

“Decision makers and developers rarely consider adequately the way in which the built environment affects those who live and work within it … all parties … are generally unaware of the potential impacts of the built environment on health and wellbeing”.88

97.The devolution of public health responsibilities to local authorities should, in theory, hold the potential to deliver greater linkages between local planning decisions and health outcomes. Amongst many other relevant functions, local authorities have key planning responsibilities and also play a key role in housing, which is at the frontline of public health. We were told that, while many local authorities had made good progress on developing the appropriate links, there were others that needed to improve.89 It was suggested that there was a large cultural gap between planning and public health professions. 90 We consider that this gap would need to be addressed to allow progress.

98.The National Housing Federation suggested that this gap could be bridged, in part, by involving those tasked with developing Health and Wellbeing Strategies and Joint Strategic Needs Assessments in the production of key planning documents.91 While planning is typically carried out by lower-tier district councils, the production of these documents is usually led by upper-tier authorities, through Health and Wellbeing Boards. Lord Best suggested that Health and Wellbeing Boards would be central in building links across professions and sectors.92 The RTPI told us that:

“When health and well-being boards were established, we pressed very hard for the planning function within local government to be strongly represented. It was quite difficult, because we had the difficulty of two tiers, and health and well-being is at the upper-tier level”.93

99.It is important that planners and all policy makers, including those working in housing, take account of the health impacts of their decisions; failure to do so will lead to significant long-term costs. We welcome the inclusion of specific health policies within the National Planning Policy Framework, but there is much work still to be done to encourage proper integration between planning and health. Health and Wellbeing Boards need to play a more proactive role in developing links, across different local authority structures, to encourage greater integration.

100.In order for planners and decision makers to understand the potential health impacts of their decisions it is vital that proper and rigorous monitoring systems and evidence bases are in place. We are concerned that this is not always the case; our evidence suggested that the capacity for monitoring the health impact of planning decisions had declined in recent years.

101.Prior to 2011 local authorities were required to produce an Annual Monitoring Report, a statutory return to DCLG which set out performance and progress against a range of defined planning, transport and built and natural environment indicators. Many of these indicators had application to health outcomes including, for example, access to public transport and access to green infrastructure. Local authorities are no longer required to produce such specific reports, although some still continue to do so. The World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments told us:

“All of this has been scrapped, so we do not have the mechanism to monitor how well local authorities are developing on health at the city or the local authority level”.94

102.In addition to monitoring the health outcomes of planning decisions, we were told that more work could be undertaken to assess the health impacts of major planning applications prior to the granting of permission. The Partnership for Active Travel, Transport and Health (PATTH) suggested that health should be strengthened as a material consideration in planning applications; the Transport and Health Study Group supported this stance and also argued that those engaged in spatial planning should build health impact assessments into their decision making.95 The UK Health Forum suggested that health impact assessments should be incorporated into all local infrastructure projects.96

103.We were told that some local authorities were already using health impact assessments on larger developments, including housing developments of over 100 units; there were, however, difficulties in developing an assessment methodology that was sufficiently robust to incorporate into the planning system.97

104.If built environment policies are to take account of health impacts it is essential that they are informed by a robust evidence base. Local authorities should be proactive in undertaking monitoring of the health outcomes and impacts of planning decisions. We recommend that the Government should, within the National Planning Practice Guidance, set out a common framework of health indicators for local planning authorities to monitor.

105.We welcome recent moves towards the adoption and use of health impact assessments in decision making on major planning applications. We call upon the Government to support such initiatives, and to examine ways in which health impact assessments could be more closely integrated into development management processes.

Streets, highways and the public realm

106.The quality of the public realm98 has a significant impact on the overall quality and cohesion of the built environment. Highways are particularly important in this context, constituting over 80% of the public realm99; highways also have major air quality and health impacts, as described in Chapter One.100

107.MADE West Midlands told us that:

“Every city has … prestige developments and public realm schemes that they can take lovely photos of … but then you go round the corner and see a place that still has masses of surface car parks, is highway dominated, has poor buildings, is difficult to find your way around and so on. A lot of our country is like that”.101

Sunand Prasad echoed this view, telling us:

“Drop anyone from a helicopter almost anywhere on the outskirts of any town in the UK and they will see only highway-dominated spaces, poor spaces, business parks and retail outlets. Those are terrible; they are just not for people. They are there for the hermetic idea of arriving by car, getting into the shops and going out again. There is no care for the public space”.102

108.In those parts of the country that have two tiers of local government there is, again, a division of responsibility. District councils are responsible for planning while county councils are typically responsible for highways. We were told that:

“Transportation is arguably the key to promoting more sustainable and resilient built environments, though Highway Authorities are generally car-orientated, detached from local planning authorities and have unquestioned authority”.103

109.Nationally, Manual for Streets (first published in 2007) offers Government guidance on approaches to managing transport in residential streets, and on street design. The Transport and Health Study Group emphasised the importance of the manual in providing key design guidance on the creation of safe streets.104 The guidance is, however, non-binding; Colchester Borough Council told us that, as a result, most transport authorities do not adopt or promote it.105 We were told that compliance with the guidance should be mandatory.106

110.Decisions regarding streets and highways have a major impact upon the built environment, as well as on air quality and pedestrian safety. Those decisions should be made in accordance with existing best practice guidance. We recommend that local authorities—including authorities with highways responsibilities—should fully adopt Manual for Streets and should adhere to the policies contained within it.

111.Living Streets told us about the important relationship between health, wellbeing and the public realm:

“Walking is a physical and social activity, and is important for mental health and wellbeing. The built environment can influence incidental interactions on streets and in neighbourhoods, helping to build communities. It can also make space for contemplation. Public realm design should include places where people will want to stop, chat and rest, and quiet spaces and walks with access to the natural environment”.107

112.We were told that around 20 different agencies were able to ‘interfere’ in the public realm, and that many of these interventions did not require planning permission. Management and integration of these different organisations and their activities was often difficult, and ‘cluttering’ of the public realm was often the result.108 The question of control of these spaces is sometimes difficult; we were told that communities often did not think of the public realm as ‘theirs’, and therefore took relatively limited ownership of such issues.109 Living Streets had sought to address this through the use of Community Street Audits, engaging local people and producing results such as the de-cluttering of Walworth Road in South London.110 It was suggested, however, that the problem was persistent, and difficult to overcome.111

113.This problem is another result of the fragmentation across the various agencies that have the capacity to influence our built environment. We believe that better leadership, properly accountable to local communities, is required. We were told that:

“Sometimes the difficulty in the public realm is that nobody is in overall charge. People have said that in places maybe we need a Tsar who is in overall charge of the streets … Somebody needs to be in overall charge with the authority to make things happen”.112

114.Interventions in the public realm are frequently uncoordinated, and suffer from a lack of accountable leadership. All too often the poor quality of the public realm proves detrimental to the built environment and to those people who live within it. We recommend that local authorities should give one Cabinet Member (or senior officer) responsibility for coordinating services which impact upon street quality and the public realm. Such services have a major impact upon the wellbeing of local people and communities.

Integrated transport infrastructure

115.When visiting Birmingham we saw the transformative effect that properly planned and well-delivered infrastructure projects can have upon the built environment. The transformation of New Street station, and the HS2 Masterplan proposals in the eastern city-centre, will have an enduring positive impact upon the city.113 When visiting Southwark, we were told about the central importance of transport connectivity in promoting the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle area.114

116.Witnesses consistently emphasised the interaction between infrastructure and the wider built environment. They highlighted the importance of integrating new infrastructure into its surroundings, and understanding the impact upon ‘place’. We were also told about the extensive work that had been undertaken to ensure new Crossrail stations, and the millions of people that they will deliver to their destinations, were integrated into the urban fabric of London.115 The relationships between infrastructure, accessibility and the scale of development were also emphasised. We were told that planning decisions would often take account of the public transport accessibility levels (PTALs) of a location to inform decisions on density.116

117.In considering developments in Birmingham and Southwark, and the wider evidence that we received, it was apparent that successful integration of new transport infrastructure, and leveraging the benefits that it could bring, relied on a sophisticated understanding of place. The work on Crossrail had been taken forward with a diverse range of local partners and stakeholders.117 Proposals for the HS2 station in Birmingham had been modified in response to local feedback, with an emphasis upon delivering maximum economic benefit for the city.118

118.Locality told us, however, that local involvement in transport and infrastructure policy decisions was sometimes difficult:

“You have national planning policy and then you have local/neighbourhood here, with this kind of gap in between …You can see a vacuum and there is a real confusion about what you do about infrastructure, what you do about transport and how those things work. They impact enormously on the local … but they are decided at a national level”.119

119.Sir John Armitt emphasised the importance of early engagement with local communities, and cited recent research which stated that only 6% of British people think there is a ‘very well co-ordinated’ national or local plan. The same research suggested that, when asked what would increase confidence in the infrastructure sector, people highlighted community engagement (41%), consultation (30%) and leadership from politicians (25%).120

120.As detailed in Chapter Two, the Government has recently established a National Infrastructure Commission, which will provide advice to the Government and Parliament on national infrastructure priorities. A consultation on the structure and operation of the Commission is currently ongoing; in its initial phase of operation the Commission has been asked to focus upon energy efficiency, London transport and northern transport connectivity.121

121.The establishment of the Commission was welcomed in evidence from Energy UK, the British Property Federation and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, with the potential for the Commission to take a long-term view of built environment issues consistently emphasised.122 Friends of the Earth, however, suggested that the move was a continuation of a centralising trend within Government.123 Professor John Worthington, of the Independent Transport Commission, noted that planning in the UK is often focused on 5-year political cycles, but that the implementation of essential infrastructure was often spread over several political cycles. It was felt that the establishment of the Commission would help to lend a degree of perspective to these decisions.124

122.We welcome the establishment of the National Infrastructure Commission and the capacity that it should provide to take a longer-term view of infrastructure needs. We believe, however, that transport infrastructure in particular needs to be properly integrated into its local surroundings, in order to deliver full economic and social benefits, and an appropriate return on investment. The knowledge required to support this integration is often held by local stakeholders and communities.

123.While the Commission is tasked with considering national priorities, the effects of its proposals and projects will often be local in nature. The Commission will need to develop an approach to engaging with local communities, and mechanisms to encourage community support for projects. We note that the Commission is currently undertaking a consultation on its structures and operating practices. As part of its response to that consultation we recommend that the Commission should consider, and publicise its approach to:

Delivering and safeguarding quality

Design Review

124.As described earlier, design review is a process by which planning proposals are considered by an expert panel, who provide scrutiny and feedback on design aspects of the proposals. The National Planning Policy Framework places an emphasis on design review, stating that local planning authorities should put in place local arrangements for reviews and, when appropriate, should refer major projects for a national design review provided by Design Council CABE. The NPPF states that, in assessing planning applications, local authorities should have regard to the recommendations from the design review panel.125

125.The importance of good design review arrangements was consistently highlighted by witnesses. We were told that design review panels provide essential multidisciplinary input to project proposals.126 Professor Peter Bishop told us:

“In my own experience, a project that goes to design review almost certainly raises questions and comes out better. I would advocate that there are times when there should almost be a call-in: the schemes are so important that they should be almost required to go to design review”.127

126.The design review services provided by Design Council CABE were described as “excellent in London”.128 It is apparent, however, that the provision of services across England has become fragmented and disjointed since the demise of CABE as a stand-alone body.129 In addition, questions were raised concerning the quality of some local design review services.130 Design Council CABE told us:

“The concern with the change in the marketplace since 2011 must be around the quality and diversity of some of the panels, and the fact that that quality is not always necessarily delivering the public good … That is perhaps some of the challenge that we see in other panels being set up for commercial gain or benefit in places around the country. There is variation in the quality”.131

Take-up and use of design review services is an important related issue. We were told that, within London, only around 20% of major planning applications underwent a design review; outside London the figure was lower.132

127.If design review services are to be provided to a high standard they will need investment; RIBA made the case for further investment in such services.133 To justify any such investment, though, there needs to be certainty that review panels are going to be utilised by developers, and that their findings will be used to revise and refine planning proposals. RIBA told us that local authorities should be able to mandate the use of design review on schemes in their area; they suggested that such a move would increase the quality of design and place-making and address public concerns about development.134

128.In Newcastle-under-Lyme, design review has been included as a pre-requisite in the validation of planning applications. We were told that:

“If you put in a major application—a reasonable-size application—in Newcastle-under-Lyme, you have to have a design review letter and a report saying how you have responded to it … If national policy was to recommend that approach, it would really transform things”.135

The Edge suggested that consideration could be given to measures that provide preferential permissions for schemes that perform well at design review.136

129.We welcome the emphasis placed on design review in the National Planning Policy Framework. Design review has the potential to deliver significant improvements to planning proposals, thereby raising standards and encouraging community acceptance of development. It can, therefore, help to speed up the process of securing planning permission.

130.We note, however, that the current provision of such services is disjointed and fragmented. In some places, there are issues of funding and quality. In part, this is a result of the voluntary nature of design review; an insufficient number of applications are going through the process to justify wider investment. The Government should make design review mandatory for all major planning applications; major applications have major impacts on the communities in which they take place.

Permitted development rights and Article 4 directions

131.For planning purposes, different types of land use (such as business, housing and commercial use) are grouped together and allocated with identifying numbers and letters in the Use Classes Order 1987.137 The Order allows changes within a particular use class (such as changing a site from one type of business use to another) but is more prohibitive about changes between different types of use (such as changing from business to residential), for which planning permission is typically required.

132.Planning permission is, of course, not required for all changes to buildings and properties; householders and owners have certain ‘permitted development rights’ for some types of change. These rights are granted through statutory instruments laid before Parliament138 and allow for minor modifications to properties as well as, in certain circumstances, changes of the type of use to which a site or property can be put.

133.Previously, a change from office use (B1a) to a private dwelling house (use class C3) would have required planning permission. In 2013, however, the then Government amended permitted development rights to allow such changes to take place without planning permission; this was for an initial limited period of three years, after which consideration would be given to making the changes permanent.139

134.The Government announced in October 2015 that this temporary permitted development right would be made permanent.140 It made clear that in future the permitted development right would also allow the demolition of office buildings and their replacement with new building for residential use. Regulations to bring this change into force have, however, not yet been made.

135.There are concerns about the potential impact of these changes on the built environment. We were told that this new flexibility was creating conversions of poor housing quality, due to the fact that local authorities had no control over important details such as space standards, dwelling mix and tenure.141 The London Borough of Barnet stated that:

“There are no planning standards, so you could theoretically build rabbit hutches, as people sometimes refer to them, if you wanted to, whereas planning standards that define a good-quality size of units are almost set in stone”.142

136.There are concerns, too, that the changes could be leading to the loss of much needed office and employment space. Camden Town Unlimited told us that the policy had been “devastating for many small businesses which have been turfed out of neighbourhoods by landlords eager to convert property into more lucrative residential space”. They went on to suggest that the policy was “throttling the operations of small businesses within the capital”.143 Evidence from the London Borough of Islington reinforced this point.144 A recent report from the London Councils umbrella group stated that, since 2013, 834,000 square metres of office space had been lost in the capital as a result of the policy change.145

137.These effects are not, however, limited to London. In many parts of the country, local authorities are seeking to pursue economic and physical regeneration plans that rely upon new commercial and business investment into city centres. We were told that the extension of office to residential permitted development rights would undermine these initiatives and “run counter to aims to create a Northern Powerhouse”.146 It can also have a negative effect in centres of historic value and heritage. Bath and North East Somerset Council told us that:

“We have units that are full of start-up businesses, the seedbed of economic growth … losing the office space and their base as a community group of businesses to residential. There is a loss of needed space for offices and … in Bath, we have very limited space to create new offices because of the heritage situation”.147

138.Local authorities do have the power to remove permitted development rights across a defined area by issuing an Article 4 direction.148 Article 4 directions are sometimes used, for example, in conservation areas or areas with a high proportion of listed buildings. Implementing such a direction can, however, be difficult and time-consuming.149 Local authorities typically give 12 months’ notice of their intention to issue a direction; failure to give such notice could leave them liable to compensation claims from affected property owners.150 Such directions can also be cancelled by the Secretary of State if they are judged to be ‘disproportionate’.

139.The Government has stated its intention to make permanent the change in office to residential permitted development rights. It is clear, however, that in some parts of the country this change could be detrimental to the built environment. There are concerns regarding the design quality and suitability of some of the housing that is being provided through these conversions. In addition, concerns have been expressed regarding the loss of local character and important employment sites, posing a threat to the mix of uses required to deliver sustainable places.

140.Local authorities are well placed to understand whether an increase in office to residential conversions will be appropriate for their area. We believe that, when changing permitted development rights, the Government must also make it easier for local authorities to respond to local circumstances. We recommend that the Government should review and remove some of the restrictions that currently prevent more widespread use of Article 4 directions by local authorities. One such result might be the removal of the current 12 month period of notice that councils are required to observe in order to avoid liability for compensation payments.

Permission in principle

141.The changes to office to residential permitted development rights can be considered to be one part of the Government’s wider deregulatory approach to the planning system. A new and significant element of this approach is the proposed introduction of ‘permission in principle’.

142.Clause 136 of the Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, would enable the Secretary of State to grant permission in principle to land that is allocated for development in local plans and locally produced registers of land.151 Permission in principle would be granted via a Development Order issued by the Secretary of State; this would then, later in the development process, need to be followed by a Technical Details Consent granted by the local authority. The Impact Assessment for the Bill states that:

“Permission in principle is a new form of planning consent that will give upfront certainty on key issues of site suitability like location, use, and quantum of development … Firmly establishing the principle of development once before asking applicants to provide costly technical information would: improve efficiency by reducing duplication of effort; reduce uncertainty for all users of the planning system; and encourage applicants to bring forward proposals and/or save them the cost of failed applications turned down due to site unsuitability”.152

143.These proposals have caused some concern. It was suggested that ‘principle’ and ‘detail’ in the planning system were closely related:

“This negates the whole basis of the fact that detail and principle in planning are intimately related. How is it possible to give permission for something in principle, without understanding its detailed design or flood risk mitigation or sustainable urban drainage or proportion of social housing? I could go on. It misunderstands the intellectual process of making planning decisions”.153

Bath and North East Somerset Council told us that the proposals could lead to poor quality schemes in some parts of their area, as the local authority would have more limited control over various design aspects of the development.154

144.The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists were concerned that the proposals would risk development being brought forward without adequate consideration of the effects on the historic environment.155 There were also concerns that the permission in principle approach would reduce the capacity for taking account of wildlife and biodiversity issues before permission was granted.156

145.The Minister for Housing and Planning told us that the proposals were intended to encourage local authorities and local communities to bring forward and allocate suitable brownfield land for development:

“The land that comes forward for the planning permission in principle will be driven by the local areas, not from the centre; it will be the local council that comes forward with a piece of land that it wants to get into production more quickly. It will nominate this land. It will be driven by it and it will be identified through its brownfield register, or, as it goes forward, it may do it through its local or neighbourhood plan as well”.157

146.The sequence of events to be followed under this new form of planning consent is not yet clear. A number of important questions are, in our view, still unresolved. These include when and how community engagement and involvement would be incorporated into the process and how, precisely, the constraints of sites (such as environmental protections, previous contamination or access to infrastructure) would be taken into account.

147.The legislation that would create brownfield land registers and ‘permission in principle’ is currently making its way through Parliament, and may be subject to change. It is clear, in any case, that the operation and implications of these proposals would rest heavily on the precise procedures for securing a Development Order and Technical Details Consent, which have yet to be properly defined. There are, nonetheless, concerns that moves to divorce ‘principle’ from ‘detail’ could have a detrimental effect upon the built environment.

148.We are anxious to ensure that moves towards a permission in principle do not undermine the capacity of local authorities to develop, design and integrate key sites in a way that ensures that they function effectively and respond to local needs and aspirations. The relationship between principle and detail is important in the planning system. We recommend that the Government should carefully consider the impact its reforms could have upon this relationship. As a minimum, it is important that the process of granting permission in principle and Technical Details Consent should give due regard to design quality, sustainability, archaeology, heritage and all the other key components of place-making that would normally be required for the granting of planning permission.

45 Q 72 (Sunand Prasad)

46 Q 309 (Simon Foxell, quoting the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner).

47 Q 37 (Prof Peter Bishop)

48 Q 65 (Sunand Prasad)

49 Q 15 (Steve Quartermain)

50 The relationship between the built environment and health was consistently emphasised in the evidence that we received including, for example, from Public Health England (BEN0186).

51 Written evidence from RICS (BEN0185)

52 Written evidence from TCPA (BEN0171)

53 Including written evidence from RIBA (BEN0157), RTPI (BEN0126), Mr John Preston (BEN0100), Hollingbourne Parish Council (BEN0175), the Woodland Trust (BEN0130) and the UK Indoor Environments Group (BEN0112).

54 Q 4 (Prof Mark Tewdwr-Jones)

55 Written evidence from Dr Tim Brown (BEN0088)

56 Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment, Report on consultation, p 149: [accessed on 28 January 2016]

57 Q 68 (Sunand Prasad)

58 Q 68 (Quinlan Terry)

59 Q 146 (Ruth Reed)

60 Q 146 (David Henry), Q 326 (Simon Foxell and Barry Sellers)

61 Written evidence from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (BEN0102).

62 Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Annual report and accounts, 2009/10 HC Paper 56 (July 2010) pp 4–11: [accessed on 28 January 2016]

63 Matthew Carmona, ‘CABE RIP: long live CABE’, Town and Country Planning (May 2011), pp 236–239

64 Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Annual report and accounts, 2009/10 HC Paper 56 (July 2010) pp 7–11: [accessed on 28 January 2016]

65 Written evidence from IHBC (BEN0160)

66 Written evidence from Urban Vision Enterprise (BEN0026)

67 Q 85 (David Tittle)

68 Q 32 (Prof Peter Bishop)

69 Written evidence from the Place Alliance (BEN0143)

70 Written evidence from Professor Peter Bishop (BEN0011)

71 328 (Simon Foxell)

72 Government Office for Science, Guide to the work of the Chief Scientific Advisers (February 2015): [accessed on 6 February 2016]

73 Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Architecture and the Built Environment for Northern Ireland (June 2006): [accessed on 28 January 2016] Scottish Government, Creating places: A policy statement on architecture and place for Scotland (June 2013): [accessed on 27 January 2016]

74 Q 70 (Sunand Prasad)

75 Royal Institute of British Architects, Building a Better Britain: A vision for the next Government (July 2014) p 9: [accessed on 27 January 2016]

76 Cabinet Office, Government Construction Strategy (May 2011): [accessed on 28 January 2016]

77 Written evidence from the Chartered Institute of Building (BEN0043)

78 Q 69 (Sunand Prasad)

79 House of Commons Library, Construction industry: statistics and policy, Standard note, SN01432, October 2015

80 Q 69 (Sunand Prasad)

81 Written evidence from the Construction Industry Council (BEN0071)

82 All Party Group for Excellence in the Built Environment, A better deal for public building (September 2012): [accessed on 4 February 2016]

83 Written evidence from Public Health England (BEN0186)

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid.

86 Written evidence from PATTH (BEN0082)

87 We received a small number of written evidence submissions highlighting concerns regarding the matter of electro-sensitivity and the health impacts of wireless technologies and electro-magnetic fields. Within a time-limited inquiry we did not have sufficient time available to pursue, in detail, this specific health relationship with the built environment. The Chairman has, however, written to the Chairman of the House of Commons Health Committee, and to Public Health England, to notify them of these concerns. Written evidence from Electrosensitivity UK (BEN0092), Dr Isaac Jamieson & Dr Erica Mallery-Blythe (BEN0216), C Prosser (BEN0210), Stop Smart Meters UK (BEN0166) and Sue Thompson (BEN0031).

88 Written evidence from the Landscape Institute (BEN0136)

89 Q 226 (Dr Ann Connolly)

90 Q 115 (Dr Hugh Ellis)

91 Written evidence from the National Housing Federation (BEN0152)

92 Q 62 (Lord Best)

93 Q 139 (Richard Blyth)

94 Q 225 (Dr Laurence Carmichael)

95 Written evidence from PATTH (BEN0082) and the Transport and Health Study Group (BEN0094)

96 Written evidence from the UK Health Forum (BEN0024)

97 Q 229 (Dr Laurence Carmichael)

98 Living Streets define public realm as follows: “Public realm includes all the spaces between buildings that can be freely accessed, it encompasses all outdoor areas including roads, parks, squares, pedestrian routes and cycleways”. Taken from Living Streets, Creating healthy environments: practical tools for increasing walking in the built environment (2010)

99 Written evidence from PATTH (BEN0082)

100 See Box One, Chapter One.

101 Q 85 (David Tittle)

102 67 (Sunand Prasad)

103 Written evidence from Colchester Borough Council (BEN0083)

104 Written evidence from the Transport and Health Study Group (BEN0094)

105 Written evidence from Colchester Borough Council (BEN0083)

106 Written evidence from Suffolk Preservation Society (BEN0080) and Colchester Borough Council (BEN0083).

107 Written evidence from Living Streets (BEN0010)

108 Q 87 (David Tittle)

109 Written evidence from The Glass-House Community Led Design (BEN0074)

110 Written evidence from Living Streets (BEN0010)

111 Q 87 (David Tittle)

112 Ibid.

113 See Birmingham visit note, Appendix 6.

114 See Southwark visit note, Appendix 5.

115 Q 198 (Esther Kurland)

116 Q 205 (Esther Kurland)

117 Q 198 (Esther Kurland)

118 See Birmingham visit note, Appendix 6

119 Q 179 (Carole Reilly)

120 Written evidence from Sir John Armitt (BEN0226)

121 National Infrastructure Commission, ‘Infrastructure Commission invites submissions on critical infrastructure challenges’ (13 November 2015): [accessed on 26 January 2016]

122 Written evidence from Energy UK (BEN0114), British Property Federation (BEN0135) and CIBSE (BEN 0102)

123 Written evidence from Friends of the Earth (BEN0137)

124 Supplementary written evidence from Independent Transport Commission (BEN0222)

125 Department for Communities and Local Government, National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) para 62: [accessed on 27 January 2016]

126 Written evidence from the Landscape Institute (BEN0136)

127 34 (Prof Peter Bishop)

128 Written evidence from The Edge (BEN0122)

129 Written evidence from Urban Design Group (BEN0141), Q 34 (Prof Peter Bishop)

130 Q 34 (Prof Peter Bishop)

131 Q 88 (David Waterhouse)

132 Q 88 (David Tittle)

133 Written evidence from RIBA (BEN0157)

134 Ibid.

135 Q 88 (David Tittle)

136 Written evidence from The Edge (BEN0122)

137 As amended by the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Order 2015 (SI 2015/597) made under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

138 In England this is through The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, (SI 2015/596), made in exercise of the powers conferred by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and section 54 of the Coal Industry Act 1994.

139 Department for Communities and Local Government, Letter from the Chief Planner to local authority Chief Planning Officers (24 January 2013): [accessed on 25 January 2016]

140 Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Thousands more homes to be developed in planning shake-up’ (13 October 2015): [accessed on 27 January 2016]

141 Written evidence from Bromley Civic Society (BEN0151) and the National Housing Federation (BEN0152)

142 Q 272 (Joe Henry)

143 Written evidence from Camden Town Unlimited (BEN0127)

144 Written evidence from London Borough of Islington (BEN0183)

145 Figure cited is for May 2013 to April 2015. London Councils, The impact of permitted development rights for office to residential conversions (August 2015): [accessed on 28 January 2016]

146 Written evidence from Urban Vision Enterprise (BEN0026)

147 Q 272 (Simon de Beer)

148 So called because they are issued under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order.

149 Q 269 (Anneliese Hutchinson)

150 Q 273 (Joe Henry)

151 Clause 137 of the Bill would require local authorities to produce local registers of land of a “prescribed description”.

152 Department for Communities and Local Government, Housing and Planning Bill 2015/16: impact assessment (13 January 2016) paras 6.5.3–6.5.4: [accessed on 26 January 2016]

153 Q 117 (Dr Hugh Ellis)

154 Q 272 (Simon de Beer)

155 Written evidence from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (BEN0063)

156 Written evidence from the Bat Conservation Trust (BEN0172) and RSPB (BEN0188)

157 Q 334 (Brandon Lewis MP)

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