Draft London Plan - Design

07th December 2017
By Luan Deda

The recently published Draft London Plan, labelled as ambitious and bold, has undoubtedly put design in a key position in its quest. This is a welcomed step to encourage appropriate development for London and call for higher design standards to deliver the great challenges of such a complex city. The plan states a significant change in approach of “doing what is right” and moving away from set technical limitations that do not reflect the complexity of specific developments.

This Plan comes, as a result, with greater responsibility for designers and requires a new mind-set for architects and urban designers to formulate and argue appropriate strategies that are deliverable, are desirable for the local community and make the most of given opportunities.

This vision of the Draft London Plan is as relevant and important for areas outside London and in particular for Local Authorities bordering the city. It has the tendency to affect the design approach and policies of other local authorities around London and across the south east. Therefore, the Draft London Plan vision not only states the impact on London suburbs but may have an impact beyond the central urban area, particularly commuter towns around London.

The plan highlights some key design aspects that can have implications in the design process and the profession itself:

  • The importance of the design scrutiny process where design reviews by independent experts will be required to explain and justify design proposals.  Guidance on design reviews will also be made available
  • Maintaining design quality throughout the design process is also another positive step to avoid the dilution of the design quality from planning stage to delivery. Local Authorities are encouraged to use architect retention clauses as one way to ensure the quality is retained. In addition, this will require more detailed design to be provided in the planning stage
  • Housing quality and space standards is emphasised as an important component of measuring good design. Minimum space standards, accessibility, safety, health and wellbeing are to be incorporated in the design of internal and external spaces.
  • Optimising housing density is one of the bolder statements of the plan and is evidence of the emphasis on the design as a driver of appropriate development. It is for the designers to analyse the context of development and propose density, massing, scale, use mix that is appropriate and offers a good place

It is important that meeting housing need does not come at the cost of poor design or housing standards and in this sense the design focus of the Draft London Plan is welcomed. Given design is such an important part of justifying density and intensification of sites to optimise housing and deliver new homes we hope that LPA's will embrace the process and trust architects to present the appropriate scheme for a site.  This should be a genuine opportunity to deliver high quality new homes and optimise a sites density.  A concern is that the design review process, lack of resource in local authorities and the fact that design is open for interpretations may cause delay to consents or give Authorities reason to refuse purely because a design does not suit their taste.

The recommendations of the Draft Plan on continuity of design input from early stages to delivery, whilst is very important, it may affect smaller and medium sized practices that lack part of the spectrum of the required design services for complex regeneration projects.

The plan is out for consultation until March 2018.

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