Does new rule book herald real change?

New NPPF Policy for better quality homes

The revised policy document on the National Planning Policy Framework was launched by the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, on 24th July with the promise that: “new rules would make it easier for councils to challenge ‘poor quality and unattractive developments’, and give communities a greater voice about how developments should look and feel…”

The new NPPF rule book focuses on:

• promoting high quality design of new homes and places
• stronger protection for the environment
• building the right number of homes in the right places
• greater responsibility and accountability for housing delivery from councils and developers

There is also a new Housing Delivery Test for local authorities that should drive up the numbers of homes that are built each year, not just planned for. Last year 217,000 homes were built, 83,000 short of the government’s commitment to provide 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s. Nebulous plans, now have to become built neighbourhoods, or the Councils will be fined.

The new framework also asks councils to improve the use of visual tools to promote better design, quality and to see how a development will fit in with the vernacular. It may come as a surprise to people that this is something new – surely councils do this already?

Richard Werth, CEO Troy Homes, says: “I welcome the commitment to design, the right of local people to have a say, more emphasis on quality over quantity, and greater accountability. These are all things that have been at the heart of what quality developers like, Troy Homes, have been doing for years. But I do wonder how many councils have the resources in their planning departments to make this all a reality. There is already a shortage of trained planning staff let alone funding needed for them to purchase visual tools software, which could make these goals unrealistic from the outset.

Design is also subjective. What a planning officer sees as good quality design can still be rejected by the planning committee who can refuse the application and send it back to the drawing board. Most people can agree on poor or uninspired design, but good design is personal. And, let’s not forget that bold modern design does not always stand the test of time.

The new NPPF is welcome and it is needed, but it will probably not radically alter the relentless march of the volume builders’ interchangeable boxy house types. This is because very large developments have to be done within economies of scale and effectiveness demanded from volume build. Large housing developments with similar designs are nothing new – the Victorians did row upon row if it and, from the 1920’s to the 1950’s whole suburbs of three-bedroom semi-detached homes appeared across the UK. But the quality of the build in today’s largescale developments has to be as good, if not better, to achieve the same longevity.

The NPPF also promotes smaller sites. This along with design will help SME developers like Troy Homes because, for the first time, our all-consuming vision, commitment to design over volume and workman ship has a value over and above: “How many homes are you building here?” This sea change gives us and local councils the opportunity to enhance architectural diversity and enrich the local communities whilst still achieving their targets for finished new homes. A better partnership between house builders and the council is now important. This will ensure that quality, now enshrined in the planning rule book, is definitely celebrated and delivered.”