Make ‘places not just homes’, says new government report

Building Better, Building Beautiful commission’s interim report urges transformation of retail parks into thriving communities.

Town halls should encourage the redevelopment of retail parks and large supermarkets into communities comprising homes, shops, and businesses, a government report has found.

The Creating space for beauty, published today (9th July, 2019), recommends that new ‘mixed use’ communities be built on brownfield sites and that they should be supported by new public transport to reduce reliance on cars.

The proposals come as part of plans to revisit ‘boxland’ developments.

The Building Better, Building Beautiful commission’s interim report examines the fundamental reasons for ‘ugly developments’ and public mistrust, and calls for communities to be given an earlier say in the development process, encouraging greater use of master-planning – rather than communities engaging in town ‘planning by appeal’.

Interim chairman of the commission, Nicholas Boys Smith, said: “Redeveloping abandoned out-of-town retail parks and ugly old supermarkets would deliver something much more beautiful in the form of thriving new communities where people can raise a family, work or settle down.

“Our initial report sets many ways we can make our country more beautiful while fulfilling the needs of future generations who will need a roof over their head.

Smith continued: “We need to move the democracy up-stream from development control to plan-making.

“Beauty should not be just a property of the old buildings or protected landscapes but something we expect from new buildings, places and settlements. We need to deliver beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy.

“This will require, ultimately, some fundamental changes. Hopefully our report will start part of that important debate with the public and the professions.

“These are draft proposals at this stage, and we would welcome further feedback before we put a final report to the government in the coming months.”

Other interim recommendations to the government include:

  • Councils to have confidence in “saying no to ugliness”
  • Any financial support from Homes England and local councils for a development to “aim for beauty”
  • Improve and in bring forward public and stakeholder engagement in the design standards councils set developers in local plans, so they can demand better quality
  • High streets to be beautiful, walkable, well-connected places for people to live and work with a greater mix of buildings
  • Different layers of local government to come together and set out a vision for development that reflects local geography, culture, and economic priorities

Responding to the report, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “I am determined to reach our target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, but it’s right that we do not do this at any expense – what is built must stand the test of time.

“We owe it to the next generation to not just build more homes, but to build communities people can be proud of.

“As a country, we should not shy away from talking about what building beautifully means – and this report is an important contribution to that discussion.”

The commission praises beautiful developments, including The Malings in Newcastle, a riverside development of 76 new homes built on brownfield land and in keeping with traditional terraced properties in the area.

The commission intends to submit a final report to the government before the end of the year.

Commissioners want to receive further comments and evidence which will help them to prepare a final report.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has welcomed the findings of the commission.

Ian Tant, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: “The commission has helpfully steered the conversation about beauty to place-making and location of developments and crucially places importance on the planning system and planners to play a decisive role in changing the status quo.

“Beautiful buildings and places all require a well-resourced planning system.

“It is time national and local governments heeded the commission’s wide-ranging recommendations to use the planning function more creatively for place-making rather than development control, resource it properly and support it with more formal design policies and codes, to bring about a step change in the way the country builds.”

Tant added: “There is much to be welcomed in this interim report. We look forward to the opportunity to continued collaboration with the commission and commissioners.”

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the TCPA, also commented, saying: “The Building Better Building Beautiful commission’s interim report rightly places great emphasis on the value of placemaking rather than just house building, and argues that beauty should be considered in relation to buildings, places and where places are located.

“We are also pleased that the interim report builds on a number of themes raised in the Raynsford Review of Planning, published in November 2018, which informed the evidence we presented to the Commission.

“These themes include underfunding of local authority planning departments, a loss of public trust in the development process, and the need for meaningful community engagement in planning.”

Howie continued: “We hope that the interim report will raise awareness within government of just how important planning, design, building, and regeneration is for people’s health and wellbeing.

“Looking ahead to the final report, and drawing on the emphasis in the interim report on communities, we encourage the commission to set out a clear recommendation for a statutory purpose for the planning system that focusses on outcomes for people.

“In light of the commission’s emphasis on the need for a ‘level playing field’, we also hope the commission will recommend the introduction of a Healthy Homes Act.

“Such legislation would set out principles defining what constitutes a decent, beautiful home and make sure that new housing, and the communities it is located within, support people’s health, safety, wellbeing, and life chances.”

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