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There are some fundamental issues the government must address before its new model design code can make any difference, writes Jas Bhalla
When the idea of a national design code was first mooted, I like many others questioned how useful a guide covering development across England could be. It was encouraging, therefore, to learn the new national model design code is not a code in itself, but rather a guide setting out how local authorities should audit local character and create bespoke place-based standards; essentially a design guide on producing good design guidance.
There is undoubtedly much to be praised in the publication. It deals with different scales, densities, and contexts with precision, demonstrating why urban character is more complex than a discussion around style. Despite this, there are fundamental issues associated with the planning and development process that have a greater bearing on design quality, and to which characterisation and coding are inadequate responses.
Design quality begins within decisions around site allocation and the interdependence between new homes, infrastructure, jobs, and amenities. Bereft of investment and political will, it’s all too common for local authorities to bring forward sites that are most readily available as opposed to those that can support the right type of development. Even the most articulate coding is not capable of preventing poorly connected, leftover slivers of greenfield land from becoming the car-dependent cul-de-sacs of tomorrow.
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