New guidance includes measures to ensure post-approval design quality is maintained

Councils can use strategies such as "encouraging the retention of key design consultants from the planning application team and using design review at appropriate intervals" to ensure that the quality of approved development is not diminished between permission and completion, according to new guidance.

Design process: revised planning guidance released. Image by Pixabay
Design process: revised planning guidance released. Image by Pixabay

The measure is contained in a major rewrite of Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on design, which was published yesterday and updates the previous five-year-old guidance. The updated PPG is accompanied by a new National Design Guide, also published yesterday. 

The new version of the guidance says it is important that design quality is not diminished as a permission is implemented.

It says: "Local planning authorities can consider a strategy to maintain the original design intent and quality of significant schemes, such as by encouraging the retention of key design consultants from the planning application team and using design review at appropriate intervals.

It adds that "site inspections to verify compliance with approved plans and conditions are important."

The guidance also introduces wording making it clear that design conditions can be imposed at the outline planning stage, "allowing for the details to be submitted for later determination as part of a reserved matters application".

In addition, it "can also be important to ensure that applications to discharge conditions or amend approved schemes do not undermine development quality," it says. 

The guidance also beefs up when, and for what purpose, the government thinks design review should be used for.

It says: "Effective design review is proportionate and can be used for both large and small-scale development, so long as the projects are significant enough to warrant the investment needed for a review."

An effective design review should follow clear appraisal criteria and should be "representative, diverse and inclusive, drawing upon a range of built environment and other professional expertise". 

In addition, an effective design review "considers the wider site-specific and policy context, such as relevant socio-economic issues, as well as the physical characteristics of the site and its setting", it says. 

A new section of the guidance also outlines how planning authorities can effectively engage communities in the design of their area.

It says: "Local planning authorities and applicants are encouraged to proactively engage an inclusive, diverse and representative sample of the community, so that their views can be taken in to account in relation to design.

"It is also important to consider maximising the opportunity for local communities to participate, such as working with established organisations or groups within the community and holding events at a time and location that are accessible."

Design workshops can also help councils "understand the views of local communities on design policies in local plans, and both local authorities and applicants in relation to masterplans and design elements of specific development sites", the guidance says.

Elsewhere, the new guidance spells out the difference between strategic and non-strategic policies on design, and what each should seek to achieve.

Strategic policies, included in a local plan, can set out design expectations at a broad level "for example in relation to the future character and role of town centres, areas requiring regeneration or suburban areas facing more incremental change," the document says.

They can also set out key design requirement for strategic site allocations and explain how masterplanning and design work should be taken forward on these sites, the guidance says. 

The document adds that non-strategic policies can be prepared by planning authorities or neighbourhood planning groups and establish more detailed design principles for an area.

They are "most effective when based on appropriate evidence of the defining characteristics of the area, such as its historic, landscape and townscape character", according to the guidance.

The new wording also describes the role of local design guides, which can build on policies in the development plan.

In a section on masterplans, the new guidance also warns councils that these documents should not "mislead the public by showing inaccurate details or significant elements not yet decided upon".

Outline planning applications can include design principles "where these are fundamental to decision-making" the document added.

The new guidance also says that parameter plans can provide information on proposed land uses, building heights, areas of potential development, landscape and green infrastructure and other placemaking components.

But "they are not a substitute for a clear design vision and masterplan, and need to be used in a way that does not inhibit the evolution of detailed proposals," the guidance says.

In July, the government published a raft of updates to its PPG, including new sections on green belt policy and effective land use.

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