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Nicholas Boys Smith picked to run new national design body

The as yet unnamed national organisation is set to be established as part of a far-reaching overhaul of England’s planning system. The body will be responsible for helping local authorities to create design codes which will be embedded into local plans.

Boys Smith has been named as the head of a steering group which will advise the government on what the new design body should look like, and will later become chair of the body which, the AJ understands, is likely to be created in the first half of 2021.

Announcing the appointment, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said there would be a ‘very, very strong’ emphasis on design – and the roles of design guide and codes – in the new English planning system.

Jenrick told the Create Streets conference this afternoon (22 September) that he envisions design codes being created for local neighbourhoods and possibly even individual streets – meaning each local authority will have to oversee the creation of several local codes.

The codes will be based on local materials and vernaculars, as well as what is popular among residents.

Jenrick also confirmed that there will be a ‘fast-track for beauty’ in the new planning system, which rewards applicants who submit schemes which are in keeping with local design codes.

He said: ‘Beauty is a golden thread which runs through [the planning reforms]. I welcomed the many suggestions made by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission [co-chaired by Boys Smith and Roger Scruton] earlier this year, many of which have fed into the planning white paper.

‘One of these is design codes and pattern books… [an] idea which helped build some of the country’s most beautiful and enduring places like Bath, Belgravia and Bourneville. I don’t want beauty to be the preserve of the privileged few who can afford, by good fortune, to live in these places.

‘Too often, in the past, less affluent residents have not just failed to access these places, but have been the guinea pigs for experimental architecture, some of which have failed disastrously: I think of the demolished tower blocks of Glasgow’s Red Road, or the Robin Hood Gardens here in London.’

Today, the government has also appointed architectural historian Charles O’Brien as a new ‘listing heritage adviser’, to drive up the number of locally listed building and structures which will designated as protected areas under the new planning system.

The government has said the role has not existed since the 1980s, and has ‘echoes of the famous “Monuments Men” who battled to save historic buildings and artefacts from bulldozers during the Second World War’.

Under the government’s proposed new planning system, councils will be obliged to create local plans which prescribe all local land as in a ‘growth area’, a ‘renewal area’ or a ‘protected area’.

The path to planning permission will be streamlined for developments in either of the first two zones, with outline permission automatically existing for ‘growth area’ schemes and those which are of a desirable use-class and in a ‘renewal area’.

Responding to the latest announcements, RIBA president Alan Jones hit out at the ‘inconsistencies in the government’s approach’ which he said needed to be urgently tackled. He said: ‘Just 22 days ago, the extension of the permitted development policy took effect, allowing the conversion of offices and shops into housing without adequate space or light, and opening the door to the next generation of slum housing. How can this possibly support aims to “place beauty and design quality at the heart of all new developments?”‘

How can extending permitted development possibly support placing design quality at the heart of development?

He added: ‘Alongside recruiting a diverse range of architects and built environment professionals to sit on this new design body, the government must tackle the resource gap in local authority planning departments, particularly the shortage of qualified design expertise.

‘If design codes go beyond aesthetics and drive spatial and sustainability standards, they have the power to do good – but only with the right support for community engagement and professional design expertise.’

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