New 'beautiful buildings' commission to examine planning's role in improving design

A new commission created by the government to promote 'beautiful buildings' will aim to make the planning system work 'in support of better design and style, not against it', the government has said.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire
Communities secretary James Brokenshire

The government has launched the new "Building Better, Building Beautiful" commission to boost the quality of the built environment as part of its drive to increase the number of new homes being built.

According to a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) statement, the commission aims "to promote better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, to reflect what communities want, building on the knowledge and tradition of what they know works for their area".

It will also explore "how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent", and "how to make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it".

According to its terms of reference, the commission will gather evidence from stakeholders before developing ideas "to help renew high streets and inform the planning and design of new settlements".

"Through the commissioning of appropriate activity, and the gathering of evidence, the commission will challenge current practices, policies and behaviours to develop pragmatic solutions to the challenges identified", it says.

It will also "develop practical ideas for the identification and release of appropriate land for housing and the role of infrastructure in strategic spatial strategic planning".

Conservative writer and philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has been appointed to chair the commission, with further commissioners to be announced in due course.

The commissioners will be supported by a group of around eight advisors.

According to the terms of reference, the commission will produce a final report in December 2019 with an interim report and initial recommendations in July 2019.

The commission will report to housing secretary James Brokenshire, it adds.

Scruton has a traditional view of architecture and has criticised contemporary styles.

Speaking at a Conservative Party fringe event on housing and design last month, alongside housing minister Kit Malthouse, he said: "Architecture schools want to produce iconic buildings that stand out but don't fit in."

At the event, Scruton also spoke in favour of strict planning laws, saying: "When it comes to the beauty of our countryside, it's not an economic question.

"Our sense of place has been wound into our national identity."

Brokenshire said: "Most people agree we need to build more for future generations, but too many still feel that new homes in their local area just aren’t up to scratch.

"Part of making the housing market work for everyone is helping to ensure that what we build, is built to last. That it respects the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities.

"This will become increasingly important as we look to create a number of new settlements across the country and invest in the infrastructure and technology they will need to be thriving and successful places."

The move to establish the commission comes after the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) issued in July introduced a heightened emphasis on design standards in new developments.

Last month, Planning examined how new requirements for authorities and applicants to boost design quality in new schemes were playing out on the ground.

The announcement also arrives more than four years after the Farrell Review of architecture and the built environment called for more connectedness between design and planning policy 

Last week, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) warned that new government proposals to extend permitted development rights that were announced in the Budget could "condemn desperate people to live in badly designed boxes". 


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