Published date 3 September 2021

New research tackling the design quality of new developments shortlisted for award

External shot of paintworks

New research produced by the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and commissioned by the West of England Combined Authority, has been shortlisted for the Sir Peter Hall Award for Research Excellence by Royal Town Planning Institute. The awards are designed to showcase outstanding achievements in planning and to raise awareness of pioneering work in the industry, with the winners being announced at a ceremony on 8 September.

The research was commissioned to take a local look at an issue that is of concern across the UK- the quality of new developments and the important role that changes after the granting of planning permission play in ensuring the final design quality of development.

Whilst there has been considerable research focused on design issues both pre-application and at the planning application stage, there is a clear knowledge gap about post-consent, about which the West of England Combined Authority and the four councils in the region wanted to understand more to drive quality development.

The independent research used the local planning authorities in the region as case studies to find out more about the journey of new development from the point of receiving permission through to on-site construction and occupation.

Dr Patricia Greer, Chief Executive of the West of England Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The West of England Combined Authority and the four local authorities in the region are committed to ensuring that new development is of high quality, and achieves locally distinctive places that contribute to clean, inclusive recovery and growth. The issue of declining quality after planning consent is recognised nationally, but we were keen to understand more about this little researched area of the planning system. We will use the findings from this research to work together and with partners to consider how more certainty and consistency throughout the planning process might improve outcomes for local communities.”

Results from the year-long project will help councils across the UK to strengthen their services in order to better support development quality post-consent.

Hannah Hickman Senior Research Fellow in the Department for Geography and Environmental Management at UWE Bristol, said: “The aspiration to achieve high-quality design outcomes in the delivery of new homes is high on the political agenda and at the forefront of contemporary debates on future planning reform in England. Whilst there are commendable examples across England of well-designed schemes contributing positively to place-making, there are also examples of developments where better design outcomes could, and should, have been reached.”

The report makes a number of recommendations focused on five areas:

  • Reducing the potential for reduced quality in the post-consent process
  • Resourcing planning authorities and empowering planning officers
  • Strengthening each stage of the post consent process
  • Widening the conversation about good development and best practice
  • Building trust between local planning authorities and developers

Ms. Hickman said: “Post-consent is not always viewed as an integral part of the development process, yet post-consent is a crucial stage at which key details are agreed and change can occur. Whilst not a fundamental determinant of overall design outcomes the way in which post-consent planning processes unfold can allow for a significant decline in the overall quality of a delivered scheme.

“We believe that with the implementation of all or some of these recommendations the same design quality expectations pre-consent can be more effectively upheld post-consent.”

Importantly, whilst these recommendations are the output of a West of England focused study, they have the potential for implementation across a wider area to support the aspiration for high design quality in developments right across England.

Furthering understanding of what influences both high-and poorer quality outcomes is vital in seeking to ensure that new homes are more consistently delivered to high design standards. Hickman and the team aim to conduct more research in this area.

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