DESIGNS ON SUCCESS
While good design is critical to effective planning, the key to success is to create places where people what to
come to live and build a home, says Sam Dewar, director of planning consultancy and project management
specialist, DPA Planning.
We have all felt the presence, almost
primeval appeal, of good design:
well thought out, carefully crafted
housing developments can be
empowering, making us feel safe, secure and at
home. And this extends to the wider environment
and infrastructure which surrounds us, from the
layout of streets and pavements, to the provision
of local facilities and community services.
It may seem a simple formula, but it’s surprising
how easy it is to get this wrong. In balancing the
demands of design and planning, I would argue
that more thought needs to be given to the type of
buildings and urban spaces that we want to create.
More thought needs to be given to the people that
will live in our houses and how they will interact
with space to create a home.
Those involved in property development
need to be far more robust in answering some
fundamentals if we are to deliver better housing
schemes. Who is this development for? Who will
want to live here? And why will they want to come
here? At the start of the whole process, far more
needs to be invested in thinking long and hard
about what should be built and why?
Effective design in planning can generate
increased value throughout the property
development process, differentiating the
perfunctory from the outstanding. In simple
fiscal terms, it can help to deliver more value and
return on investment for developers and builders
struggling in a competitive sector. It doesn’t have
to cost more; ‘affordable quality’ can be secured
through thinking differently, or by adopting a
more radical approach to problem solving.
So, what constitutes good design within the
planning process? It can start inside the home
with efficient, well thought through spatial
arrangements. Generous and effective utilisation
of space is important. Rooms should be sized
appropriately for their function and be adaptable
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for their use over the lifetime of the property.
Think about storage –many households will stay
put in their homes for longer than might have
been the case in previous generations.
Thinking about how homes can be designed
better to ensure they meet changing future
needs is paramount, creating homes that are
hopefully more resilient to changing tastes and
the ravages of time. Similarly, good housing needs
to incorporate design elements, which make
properties more adaptable to warmer winters and
wetter summers in the face of climate change.
Schemes that are getting the design/planning
balance right feature a mix of factors but it’s also
important to consider creating a ‘buzz’ about a
place. Effective ‘place making’ has to be in built
from the outset – it can’t be ‘created’ once a
scheme is completed – and must be considered as
part of a wider community consultation process,
contributing to occupants’ long-term happiness.
Developers can undoubtedly facilitate better
design through improved engagement with the
customer and wider communities, but working
collaboratively to test new technologies and
techniques to improve build quality.
Government and by implication, local
authorities, need to continually press to raise
construction standards as they balance the
demands of quality and long-term sustainability
with speed and expediency of housing delivery
within the planning system. I would also like to see
Sam Dewar says effective design in planning
generates increased value throughout the
property development process
more pursuance of a diverse housing stock through
the encouragement of alternative developers,
including small builders and those involved in
community and custom build projects.
It’s clear that we all need to think about the
long-term legacy for those who will live in the
houses we build if we are to deliver better homes.
Improved engagement with the customer,
whether the homes are for sale or rent, will help,
as will greater collaboration across the industry’s
professional sectors and trade bodies. We must
not overlook the great strides that have been
achieved in recent decades in good design as part
of the planning process too.
However, in the clamour to build the quantity
and quality of new homes that the country
desperately needs – 300,000 units per year – it
remains as important as ever to continually
strive improve, innovate, and think beyond
the traditional and conventional. And this
could involve more development of hitherto
‘untouchable’ green belt land as the opportunities
to build on brownfield sites begin to dry up.
A radically different policy that’s properly
thought through and executed, could be an
attractive proposition. It’s certainly a bold agenda
but sitting alongside a more forward-looking
vision from local authorities, it’s one I believe can
deliver real change.
Effective ‘place making’
has to be in built from