Design IS a planning issue
In his latest Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses planning policy.
Nation, community, home. All these contribute to our sense of ‘place’ – somewhere to be at ease, connected to and content with familiar people and surroundings. Special places are a gift from the past, to be protected in our time and bestowed to the future. Which is why the character of places must be defended as the embodiment of much we hold dear.
The comfort of hearth and home is obvious. Providing personal sanctuary for families, a comfortable and secure household is the bedrock of a fulfilling life, but gazing beyond front doors, people also seek a communal home that can and should enrich us.
Beyond God-given nature, this is a designed world, in which wellbeing is woven throughout the houses, streets and developments that make up our villages, towns and cities. Yet, in our age, much of what is built is characterless and grim. As mass identikit housing developments, out of scale and character with the prevailing built environment or local landscapes, reduce communal places to mere facts of geography.
Councillors here in South Holland deserve much credit for drawing a line in the sand at last week’s meeting of the planning committee, rejecting just such a substandard (over)development in Weston. This matters for the village, but, as well as that, it sends a signal that ‘enough is enough’ throughout our area. Empowered by new national policy, henceforth, in the words of Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick, it is “communities, not developers” who will be in the “driving seat”.
Diligent local representatives, taking a stand of this kind, marks a new beginning. For, sadly, too often in recent times, poor quality housing, carelessly designed and badly constructed, has become routine, as governments – of all political persuasions – neglected the salience of ‘place’.
Shockingly, it is said that a Secretary of State from years gone by once declared that design was “not a planning issue”. Well, it is now. This Government, inspired by the work of the Building Beautiful Commission, of which I was a part, has established an Office for Place missioned to shape national design models and support communities to turn their visions of beautiful settlements into local standards which all new buildings are required to meet.
Just as significantly, planning policy has been altered with immediate effect to foster “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”. The National Planning Policy Framework, which is the core ‘material consideration’ for local councillors in considering in all developments, now stresses that planning applications should conform to stringent, high quality design standards. In short, this means that the aesthetic of every planning application that goes before South Holland DC and other local authorities must be gauged. The new policy makes clear that anything that fails to meet this high standard, by statute, “should be refused”.
Places deteriorate when an unholy alliance of the unconcerned and the untalented propose the unacceptable. Plainly, what constitutes ‘acceptable’ development in the eyes of some town planners and most modern architects is frequently at odds with popular perceptions, as the public instinctively understand the value of design based on time-honoured principles and traditions.
Architecture is a language; its form helps us understand who we are and how we relate to others. The paramount importance of design, scale and beauty in fashioning places which enshrine purpose and encourage pride cannot be understated. Knowing that there must be no more developments of the kind which scare our towns and villages, in my role as a board member of the new Office for Place, I will pursue my work keenly, knowing that what we build now is what we leave to generations to come.