Cracking the code

“Our research shows that national policy needs to be more strategically integrated, with climate, smart energy and nature being given equal weight to housing, transport and economic growth.”
Frazer Osment, Chair, LDA Design

Net zero, nature recovery and equality need to move to the front of the planning and development process, according to research by LDA Design, commissioned by the Royal Town Planning Institute. The research shows how a new generation of design codes could make this happen.

All local authorities in England are expected to provide design guidance for development sites. However, the potentially transformative role of design codes is being missed. They are often introduced towards the end of the development process, to set standards for building heights, typologies and aesthetics. Instead, they need to be introduced early, to underpin the very choice of location for growth, and show how development should be tackling the challenges of the day, including climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.

For ‘Cracking the Code’, LDA Design partnered with transport specialists City Science and BSG Ecology. The project was supported by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The research identified five key themes that can help design codes contribute to the success of new developments:

  • An introduction of design codes earlier in the development process
  • A new and far stronger focus on how to deliver net zero and nature recovery
  • A robust framework for environmental assessments
  • An intentional delivery of the community’s vision for the place
  • Carbon and nature to be prioritised throughout the design and development process

‘Cracking the Code’ asserts that in underpinning decisions about growth, design codes can improve social equity in important ways: for example, if the place chosen can support active lifestyles and shared transport, it will provide more equitable access to jobs and services.

Frazer Osment, Chair of LDA Design, believes this research has serious ramifications, commenting: “It shows that national policy needs to be more strategically integrated, with climate, smart energy and nature being given equal weight to housing, transport and economic growth.

“The National Model Design Code needs to put far more emphasis on climate and nature and what this means for design characteristics and good design.”

‘Cracking the Code’ is underpinned by two illustrative codes for district-wide and site-specific development. They show how to base design codes in the vision for the kind of place communities want, for example by enabling people to engage with nature on an everyday basis. The illustrative codes include the key design principles that set the big moves and include critical success factors. They show what each landscape type looks like, and which areas need protection, joining up, or are of strategic importance.

The report identifies some points for local planning authorities and applicants preparing their own codes.

First, as the illustrative codes demonstrate, the new generation of design codes has to be evidence-based, with a robust framework for environmental assessments. Carbon and nature must come to the forefront throughout the design and development process.

Second, culture change is critical to tackling the carbon crisis and communities should become more involved with the design coding process. This will help to direct place-making so that it is easy to live a low carbon life in close contact with nature.

Third, design principles should aim to deliver very specifically on the local community’s vision for the place, so that everyone can become more confident about the long-term outcomes from development.

Download ‘Cracking the Code: How design codes can contribute to net-zero and nature’s recovery’

Download the District Level Design Code

Download the Site Level Design Code

Visit the RTPI website for more.

Lead image: Arnold Circus, Robert Bye

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