Sunday, 31 July 2011

Ministers support outstanding architecture shock

The draft National Planning Policy Framework has been well received by those who want to get things built, and criticised by those who don't want things to be built.

This suggests the Government has got it about right.

But what about those who would like to see things getting built - but only things that are any good?  Everyone has anecdotes of how well designed schemes get bogged down in the planning system while mediocrities are waved through - it is a commonplace of what passes for 'planning' in England.

The NPPF, perhaps surprisingly, offers some hope.  At clause 121, it states that '...significant weight should be given to truly outstanding or innovative designs which help raise the standard of design...'.  This is, in effect, a version of the PPS7 'country house clause' (or 'Gummer clause' after the Environment Secretary who brought it in), but applied to all development everywhere.  The wording doesn't go as far as providing a free pass to schemes that pass the test, but the clause can be seen as a very positive and specifically anti-bonehead-nimby measure that pulls, like a lot of the draft, in the opposite direction to the likely consequences of localism. 

It's good that schemes can be either outstanding or innovative to qualify, rather than having to qualify under both counts as in the present country house clause - innovation is a great thing, but you don't want it everywhere and at all times - and in any case, when it happens it happens, and it can't be willed into being at the command of ministers - and architecture can of course be outstanding without being innovative, so even the 'traditional architects' should be happy. 

But who will decide whether something is in fact 'outstanding', if that is what you are claiming (as presumably everyone now will)?

The answer is found in the preceding clause in the draft, which refers to design review as the way to 'ensure high standards of design' - another welcome provision.  While many architects have mixed feelings about design review panels, most can be eventually be persuaded that if they must put up with someone else opining about the merits of their designs, they would on balance prefer this to happen through peer review rather than on the basis of the opinions of planning officers or planning committee members.

If all this gets through the consultation - particularly what may become known as the 'Clark clause' - then localism minister Greg Clark who is responsible for the draft can - unlike his colleague Michael Gove - expect an Hon FRIBA to follow shortly.

All in all, there is a fair bit to like in the NPPF.  You can register your support here.

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