Ian Harvey shares some of our latest thinking on design codes and guidance.

Ahead of a Civic Voice webinar hearing from Abergavenny District Civic Society’s experience of producing a community-led design guide, our Director, Ian Harvey shares some of our latest thinking on design codes. 

Civic Voice’s response to the Planning White Paper welcomed the greater focus on design and the intention that design guides and codes will be locally produced with input from local communities. Since then, we have held a series of roundtable discussions with members to explore this in further detail, exploring the following questions:

  • What skills and capacity are available amongst civic societies to implement and help shape design guides and codes?
  • What are the most effective ways for Civic Voice to support community groups to have the skills to develop local design guides and codes?
  • What interest exists within the civic movement to take forward community-led design guides and codes?

We had a total of 48 civic societies involved in the roundtable conversations. Civic Societies seem to be more worried about having a lack of capacity than a lack of skills in taking forward the design agenda with 53% confident that they have the skills to appraise new developments. However, a key issue that came out of the discussions was clarifying what the civic movement’s role and involvement could and should be. Some civic societies do not want to participate in developing design codes and do not see them as being a game-changer that is needed to drive up design quality, whereas others say that they want to be in the room discussing and shaping them. A clear and consistent message was that all think that well-resourced councils are best placed to deliver and enforce codes, but worry that councils will not have the capacity to prioritise codes. It is clear that not enough good design codes are in operation at the moment. Clear feedback has been that sharing best practice and good examples is important and something civic societies are keen to see, and Civic Voice will respond to this feedback. 

It is also clear to see that civic societies do want to learn more about the various design processes and tools available to improve design quality such as; design guides, design review, assessment frameworks e.g. Building for Life and design charrettes/workshops, as well as design codes. People are mixed on training needs – some are happy with ‘taster’ sessions, whilst others want more detailed practical information. We will bear all this in mind as we develop our next set of webinars and training programme for 2021. Societies also want to know more about the benefits of using design codes. Design codes are an established idea, but, to date, infrequently applied tool in England. Prof Matthew Carmona produced a blog in 2013 on design codes saying that in excess of 120 design codes are estimated to have been prepared between 2006 and 2013.   

Why does it matter if civic societies do not think that they will drive forward design-codes? Well, research undertaken by Public Practice surveying local authorities has given an estimated cost of adopting a Design Code for an area of c.1,000 homes as high as £139,000.  Assuming approximately two thirds of the 337,000 homes a year required by the Government’s new Standard Method will be in Growth Areas, the total national annual cost of producing Design Codes would be £31m. 

At a time when we can expect public sector spending to further decrease, we need to be inspiring and supporting communities to believe that codes can be part of the solution to raise the standard of design quality.  Without their participation and support, I fear that codes may become documents that ‘sit on the shelf’ and are impossible to enforce locally. A code will only be as good as the buy-in from the local community. Government may need to think about how the ‘message’ around design codes is being percieved locally.

You can see Public Practice’s research via: https://www.publicpractice.org.uk/resources/resourcing-a-new-planning-system

In a time of challenging budgets, surely we must be looking to unlock the capacity of organised community groups to drive forward community-led design guides and codes? Our roundtable discussions and brief survey of our membership is a simple approach to help our wider thinking, but it does resonate with conversations I have had elsewhere. 

It is why we are continuing our Modern Methods of Meaningful Participation series by inviting Southgate and District Civic Voice and Abergavenny Civic Society to join us on Wednesday 16th December as we look at some of the design processes that are available to communities. 

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/modern-methods-of-meaningful-participation-civic-society-led-case-studies-tickets-129337643373

Do you know of any local codes that we could highlight? We want to hear from you on your experience of local design guides and codes. Are you aware of any design codes or guides that have been prepared in your area perhaps by the local authority or developer? Has your civic society been involved in the development of a design code? Have you written one yourself?  

Get in touch at: info@civicvoice.org.uk

Ian Harvey shares some of our latest thinking on design codes and guidance.

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