The National Model Design Code (NMDC) sets out guidance across all aspects of new development to ensure tree-lined streets, sustainable drainage and plenty of footpaths and cycleways.
The document is part of a drive by government to get more emphasis placed on quality and design in the planning system.
It also promotes the involvement of local communities in the design of new developments, countering charges of centralism made against other aspects of its proposed planning reforms.
The National Model Design Code sets out design parameters to help local authorities decide what good quality design might look like in their area. The changes to the National Planning Policy Framework set an expectation that good quality design should be approved, while poor quality should be rejected and includes an environmental commitment to ensure that all streets are lined with trees.
The word ‘beauty’ will be specifically included in planning rules for the first time since the system was created in 1947.
The new code comes on the back of the 190-page Living with Beauty report published in January 2020 and the consultation process on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that followed it.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Our revised National Planning Policy Framework will ensure that communities are more meaningfully engaged in how new development happens, that local authorities are given greater confidence in turning down schemes which do not meet locally set standards.
“This is about putting communities – not developers – in the driving seat to ensure good quality design is the norm, and the return to a sense of stewardship – to building greener, enduringly popular homes and places that stand the test of time in every sense.”
Some housing developers are unimpressed. Redrow chief executive Matthew Pratt said that the NMDC prevented developers creating to sort of wide streets and large frontages to homes that characterise the model village of Bournville, generally recognised as the most beautiful bit of Birmingham.
“Whenever politicians talk about building beautiful places there are always a handful of example model communities which are highlighted on rotation, including Bournville. The irony is that building Bournville is impossible within the constraints of the new national model design code, a community which features attractive green streets with cars parked conveniently close to the front of the home behind a hedge,” Matthew Pratt said. “It is frustrating that despite thousands of consultation responses being submitted, today’s code remains largely unchanged from that unveiled months ago, when the industry was invited to share its views to inform a code that would work for the whole of England.
“A global pandemic has taken place during the period of time it has taken to launch the new design code, but the recommendations within it have not been adapted in any way to take into account people’s changed preferences for larger homes that offer space for home working and socialising and which are surrounded by green open spaces. When asked to choose a new build home that they would aspire to live in most, the overwhelming majority of consumers we asked (77%) said they aspire to live in a two-storey detached home. Only 3% and 4% of respondents stated they would choose to live in a terraced home or townhouse respectively.”
The NMDC says local suburban streets should be 14 to 18 metres wide with trees planted next to the carriageway. This only allows for a total of two to five metres of frontage to the homes; Bournville’s local streets are typically 25 metres wide with front gardens of between five and six metres deep. The enclosure ratio of a typical Bournville street is 1:5 and the permitted ratio shown in the NMDC guidance is 1:2.5.
Local councils said they didn’t need Whitehall telling them what to do, but if the Ministry of Housing expects them to do more work, they should be allowed more resources.
“Design tools can be helpful, but decisions about the design of planning need to be locally-led and are best made by local councils together with their communities,” said David Renard, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson.
“As the government’s National Design Guide advises, any specific details and measurable criteria for good design is most appropriately set out at a local level. The requirement for councils to have a local design code will also require additional resources and skills, so it will be important that councils are fully funded and supported to provide the extra capacity needed.”