Guidelines could be a dead hand for innovation, says institute

The RIBA has spoken out against the widespread use of design codes in new housing, saying they should come with a "health warning".

The institute's response to the government's new housing guidelines, known as PPS3, sets out its view on controversial design codes in bold terms. "We oppose the application of design codes beyond the limited circumstances of masterplanning," it states.

Steven Harding, public affairs co-ordinator for the RIBA, said the institute had decided to speak out against design codes after its policy task group, chaired by Sunand Prasad of Penoyre & Prasad, voiced great concern over their use.

"Members [of the task group] felt very strongly about design codes and felt they could be a dead hand for innovation," said Harding. "We felt the problems outweighed the potential benefits."

The RIBA's planning and urbanism group, chaired by its former president George Ferguson, also expressed concerns about the design codes.

Harding said there was still time to convince the ODPM that codes would not deliver good design, despite their being enshrined in the draft PPS3.

"This is still a consultation paper. It is by no means too late. The government does listen if it gets a well-informed response."

Deputy prime minister John Prescott has been speaking in favour of the codes for many years now. The new housing guidelines, if they become law, will formalise that support, stating: "Design codes, masterplans or site briefs can help to improve the quality and value of residential development."

Consultation on the new planning guidelines closed at the end of last month.

The RIBA has also joined a growing chorus of dissent against the proposed Planning Gain Supplement (PGS), a tax on the increase in land value achieved through the granting of planning permission.

The institute says the PGS "could threaten the quality of housing design" and "may result in a block on development."

"We are part of a consultation lobby that will tell the Treasury to go away and think again about this," said Harding. "There is a lack of detail."