New developments should be tree-lined, beautiful and of high quality, according to a new draft national design code launched for consultation by the government.

Planning authorities are expected to use it as a tool kit to guide them to develop their own design codes reflecting local community views.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We need to bring about a profound and lasting change in the buildings that we build, which is one of the reasons we are placing a greater emphasis on locally popular design, quality and access to nature.”

Proposed changes include using the word ‘beauty’ in planning rules with emphasis on whether a building is attractive to local people. The proposals are out for an eight-week public consultation.

The measures are a response to the Living with Beauty report produced in January 2020 by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, BBBBC. Nicholas Boys Smith, who co-led the commission, will chair a new Office of Place to help communities create their own local standard for all new developments.

“Our ultimate purpose will be to make it easier for neighbourhood communities to ask for what they find beautiful and refuse what they find ugly,” said Mr Boys Smith.

The code is to be piloted among 20 communities, with expressions of interest already open for the first ten councils that want help creating their own versions. Successful authorities will be eligible for a share of £500,000, around £50,000 each, from the ministry of housing, communities and local government, MHCLG.

Smaller builders crucial for quality

The Royal Institute of British Architects, RIBA, said it supported the development of a national design code but warned this would not solve the crisis in quality alone.

RIBA president Alan Jones said: “The government must break down the monopoly held by a small group of developers who often put upfront cost ahead of longer-term value and provide tougher sanctions to those who bend regulations to prioritise profit over people’s health and wellbeing.”

The National Federation of Builders said a design code should be a guide to achieve best practice not a prescriptive way to place make.

The Federation of Master Builders, FMB, said local housebuilders should sit at the heart of plans to improve beauty, quality and design.

FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “Local housebuilders have faced a difficult year and whilst policy agendas on beauty and environmental provisions are important, the government must do more to remove the structural barriers that local housebuilders are currently facing.”

He called for a cut in VAT from 20 to five per cent to stimulate the repair, maintenance and improvement market which would create jobs and support local builders.

Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said that property development finance lenders agreed that fostering more SME builders was key to raising standards.

An online planning library to help people understand why and how their neighbourhood is changing has been launched by Planning Aid for London in partnership with the Town and Country Planning Association.

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