Government design commission calls for 'great weight' to be attached to beauty in planning system

The government's good design commission is to call for retail parks and supermarkets to be turned into new mixed-use developments and for "great weight" to be attached to "securing beauty in the planning system", the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has revealed.

Retail parks: commission to call for mixed-use redevelopment of such schemes
Retail parks: commission to call for mixed-use redevelopment of such schemes

In a statement, the ministry said the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s interim report, Creating space for beauty, will be published later today.

According to the statement, the report will say that councils "should encourage the redevelopment of retail parks and large supermarkets into communities that include homes, shops and businesses".

The new mixed-use communities "should be supported by new public transport to reduce reliance on cars - and are part of plans to revisit these ‘boxland’ developments," the MHCLG said.

The report "examines the fundamental reasons for ugly developments and public mistrust, and also calls for communities to be given an earlier say in the development process, encouraging greater use of master-planning – rather than communities engaging in town ‘planning by appeal’," it adds.

The ministry said that other interim recommendations include:

  • Councils should have confidence in "saying no to ugliness" – with authorities "celebrating examples of bad schemes they have turned down and used as examples to encourage beautiful design."
  • Any financial support from the government’s housing agency Homes England and local councils for a development "should ‘aim for beauty’ with more work required to understand how this might be achieved and measured."
  • "Improved and earlier public and stakeholder engagement in the design standards councils set developers in local plans so they can demand better quality."
  • High streets "should be beautiful, walkable, well-connected places for people to live and work with a greater mix of buildings that includes smaller shops, businesses and homes."
  • Different layers of local government should "come together and set out a vision for development which reflects the local geography, culture and economic priorities".

Interim chairman of the commission, Nicholas Boys Smith, said: "Redeveloping abandoned out of town retail parks and ugly old supermarkets would deliver something much more beautiful in the form of thriving new communities where people can raise a family, work or settle down.

"Our initial report sets many ways we can make our country more beautiful while fulfilling the needs of future generations who will need a roof over their head.

"We need to move the democracy up-stream from development control to plan-making.

"Beauty should not be just a property of the old buildings or protected landscapes but something we expect from new buildings, places and settlements. We need to deliver beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy. This will require, ultimately, some fundamental changes. Hopefully our report will start part of that important debate with the public and the professions.

"These are draft proposals at this stage, and we would welcome further feedback before we put a final report to the government in the coming months."

Housing secretary James Brokenshire said: "I am determined to reach our target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, but it’s right that we do not do this at any expense - what is built must stand the test of time.

"We owe it to the next generation to not just build more homes, but to build communities people can be proud of.

"As a country, we should not shy away from talking about what building beautifully means – and this report is an important contribution to that discussion."

The commission intends to submit a final report to the government before the end of the year.

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