Brokenshire backs beauty commission's call for greater and earlier public engagement

Housing secretary James Brokenshire has expressed support for his beautiful buildings commission's call for earlier and more extensive public engagement in the planning process.

Support: housing secretary James Brokenshire
Support: housing secretary James Brokenshire

Brokenshire gave a pre-recorded speech at yesterday's launch of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s interim report, Creating space for beauty, in central London.

One of the commission's recommendations is for greater community engagement around design earlier in the planning process at the plan-making, rather than the development management stage.

The report states that the commission is "concerned with the quality and breadth of public engagement with the plan making (as opposed to the development control) process".

It adds: "This needs to be systemically improved and is critical. We need to move the democracy forwards to an earlier point in the process."

Brokenshire said: "I warmly welcome the commission's call for early collaboration, not confrontation. I really welcome the idea that collaboration should be about more than just consulting. It's about real involvement. 

"This goes to the heart of why we set up the commission in the first place - to encourage greater community involvement in shaping and welcoming the new homes that we need."

Brokenshire went on to say: "The recommendations on building places not just houses, the commission's focus on regenerative development and the call to make beauty count, the challenging propostion on the metrics on beauty are all bold and exciting ideas and I welcome more detail on how we can make this a reality. 

"Finally, I welcome the commission's aspiration that we learn together ensuring we have the right skills in the right places."

Brokenshire also paid tribute to Sir Roger Scruton, the former chair who he sacked in April following a controversial interview with the New Statesman magazine.

Brokenshire said Sir Roger's "intellectual contribution absolutely remains the backbone of this work".

The commission's interim chairman, Nicholas Boys Smith, said the body wanted to see more powers in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to allow councils to refuse schemes on the grounds of beauty.

He said: "We haven't yet got into drafting suggested changes to the NPPF, but I imagine we will be doing that over the next six months. We will probably come up with several options. "We will certainly come up with an idea to make it easier for local authorities to do some things and not others."

Boys Smith said that while "there can't be a KPI for beauty", you can "measure and define at the local level, in the framework set by the NPPF and ministerial guidance" and create "objective outcomes for things like walkability, design, street pattern, mixture of uses". 

Elsewhere, Boys Smith said that residential permitted development rights were "clearly ... not working in all situations and leading to some sub-optimal outcomes", adding: "That's something we will probably have to resolve, it's not something we've got right." 

Clarifying that he was speaking for himself not the commission, he said: "If the government had just pulled that one in a bit with minimum space standards and some other things, you could probably have perhaps come to a long-term solution."

The report can be read here.


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