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Planning for the Future

The White Paper, Planning for the Future, was published on 9 August 2020 and promises a new planning system that is easier for the public to access, transforms the way communities are shaped and builds the homes the country needs. The government’s proposals make bold assurances that under the new system, good quality, attractive and affordable homes can be built faster, with local areas designating land into three categories - growth, renewal and protected - in an effort to simplify Local Plans.

We took part on the recent consultation process which ended on 29 October 2020 and share some of our thoughts on the proposals below.

On simplifying Local Plans:

The aim of simplicity is laudable and correct. It needs careful definition and implementation to achieve its intent. Growth, renewal and protection are broad terms and there is a danger these are too crude to appropriately capture the more varied and granular nature of our villages, towns and cities.

On reflecting community preferences about design:

Local preferences about design are not easy to establish. Whose preferences take priority? It is easier to determine what has been successful in design terms through what has been built before. These successful local areas and buildings have become Conservation Areas, buildings of local merit, or Listed Buildings. These mechanisms already exist. A good tool for assessing high quality design is the local Design Review Panel, made up of local built environment professionals.

Fish Island Village, Haworth Tompkins, Lyndon Goode, Pitman Tozer Architects

On emphasising the build out of developments:

The retention of the original architect for the construction stages of a project should be conditioned at planning, either in a delivery role, or as a Project Quality Monitor. A standard Project Quality Monitor role template could confirm elements critical to achieving the quality of the scheme: sample panels, quality of proposed details etc.

On improving the production and use of design guides and codes:

The input of the local community in the formation of design codes is important. However, to say they must consider “empirical evidence of what is popular and characteristic” is fraught with difficulty. What is popular in a local area is generally that which has withstood the passage of time and survived a Darwinian process where the bad have been replaced and the good have been kept. To look only at the past while being blind to the potential beauty of the future is a regressive attitude. It is vital that design codes establish good principles for development but do not limit the creative responses to the local area. Sufficiently robust to establish clear and enduring quality principles, but flexible enough to enable the growth or renewal of the area to be positive and better than what has preceded it.

Park Hill Sheffield by Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith, with renovation work by Urban Splash with Hawkins Brown, Studio Egret West and Mikhail Riches

On a “fast-track for beauty”:

Beauty is a poor criterion for assessing proposals. Better places are more sustainable places for the long term, not simply ‘more beautiful’. Design is more than skin deep. Some well-loved places that are characteristic of the area are hard to call beautiful, a car park in Peckham or Park Hill in Sheffield are hardly conventionally ‘beautiful’. As architects we value beauty highly and constantly strive for it, but it is not the only goal. Sustainability and the ability of a place to respond to climate change should be the most important aspect that design codes should concentrate on. Not beauty.

These are just some of our thoughts on the Planning White Paper. If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in more detail, please email