Prescott adopts coding to boost developments

The concept of "community coding" is to be enshrined in the planning system, deputy prime minister John Prescott declared last week.

Speaking at a Prince's Foundation conference on urbanism, Prescott announced that new planning guidance will introduce urban coding and the principles of sustainable development into the planning system.

"Coding can produce the regularity of a London square or the variety of Seaside in Florida," said Prescott. "Instead of spending money on lawyers and planning inquiries, developers can spend it on planning and design - and everyone benefits."

Urban codes are documents aimed at securing consistent high-quality design in large developments. They would be drawn up in discussion with communities before development takes place and would then have to be approved by the local authority. Buildings constructed in compliance with the code would then be fast-tracked through the planning system.

The idea has gained credence with the government after it was applied to plans for a 1,200-home urban extension at Upton in Northampton. A masterplan drawn up after a series of public workshops was turned into an urban code and outline consent was granted in just six weeks.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) said that it would support such codes "in the right circumstances". Evidence shows that developers understand the need for quality design, CABE claimed, but it warned the government to "proceed with caution".

A CABE spokesperson added: "It is important that any government-sanctioned use of codes builds on this success, rather than encouraging developers to respond to a code as a technical compliance issue."

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