Policy D4: Building Housing to the Highest Standards
All new housing, and extensions and other alterations to existing housing, should be of high quality design relating to:
- the character and appearance of the local area; and
- aesthetic qualities; and
- external and internal form and layout; and
- functionality; and
- adaptability; and
- resilience; and
- the improvement of energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
New residential development should meet the Building for Life 12 standards provided for in County Durham Building for Life Supplementary Planning Document (2019).
4.214 This policy should be used in conjunction with Policy S1, Policies H1 to H3, Policy G1, and Policies T1 to T3.
4.215 The NPPF (para. 124) sees good design as a key aspect of sustainable development, and states that:
Design policies should be developed with local communities so they reflect local aspirations, and are grounded in an understanding and evaluation of each area’s defining characteristics. Neighbourhood plans can play an important role in identifying the special qualities of each area and explaining how this should be reflected in development. (NPPF para. 125).
4.216 It was commented on in the results of the priority survey of local opinion that the City has been blighted by poor building design from the 1960s and 1970s (though some of this is being addressed by new developments in progress to replace such buildings). There are also some examples of modern architecture that complement the historic character of the City such as the Calman Learning Centre on South Road and the café/meeting room in Wharton Park. Newer building developments in the outer areas of the City have tended to be of uninspiring, standard-product semi-detached and detached houses. But options for better design of new housing exist.
4.217 Design of housing is a huge topic. Much of this is covered by building regulations (UK Government. Planning portal) and is outside the remit of the Neighbourhood Plan. The view taken in this Neighbourhood Plan is that there are a few key principles of importance to the local community. These comprise:
- sufficient space, with housing designed to achieve at a minimum the government’s nationally described space standard (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2015). Durham County Council has adopted this optional standard in the emerging Durham County Local Plan.
- accessibility. The developing Durham County Council’s Local Plan contains the requirement that housing for older people must be built to Building Regulations Requirement M4 (2) (accessible and adaptable dwellings). The Neighbourhood Plan would like to see, as a general aim, all housing to be built to this standard.
- energy efficiency. (See also policy S1).
- aesthetics, to achieve housing that is sympathetic to their area, but not a pastiche. Theme 2a policies address this aspect.
4.218 The RIBA (2009) discussion paper noted that “the design quality of many developments built before the credit crunch was inadequate, with only 18% of schemes rated as ‘good’ or ‘very good’” and that “many buyers of new homes have concerns over a lack of space and an inconvenient layout.” (p.1) It concluded that “there is a huge potential for the market for new homes to be expanded by placing more emphasis on design quality and providing a more diverse product.” (p.1) Concerns about lack of space were reiterated in RIBA (2011): consumers felt that new houses failed to provide adequate inner and outer space. Over 90% of these houses did not meet minimum size standards set by the ‘Nationally Described Space Standard’ (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2015) and were smaller than new houses in Western Europe. Ipso MORI and RIBA (2012) surveyed the housing needs and expectations of consumers and the key findings were (p.4-5):
- Large windows for natural light, large rooms and high ceilings;
- Large main living area for eating and socialising;
- Layouts which take into account technology used within the home;
- Space for private time away from other members of the household;
- Private space outside, particularly for families, or access to green public space in urban locations;
- Long-term and short-term storage for functional items, and for personal possessions;
- Dedicated space for domestic utility tasks, such as, washing, drying and ironing clothes, as well as for storing vacuum cleaners, rubbish bins and recycling;
- Options for different layouts, with flexibility.
4.219 Access to high speed Internet and mobile access in the home for both leisure and home working is crucial. The provision of this technology infrastructure needs to keep pace with new technological developments, e.g. the need for electric car charging points.
4.220 ‘Locality’ has produced guidance on design in neighbourhood planning (Design Council and Cabe, 2016). It states (p.5) that good design means “solutions that put people first by addressing the way the building or space functions – thinking about what it is used for and how it is used; ensuring it is designed to last and valued by those who use it.” It also states that good design should be functional, support a mix of uses and tenures, be adaptable and resilient and have a distinctive character. It also supports use of the Building For Life criteria.
4.221 The Building for Life criteria (Birkbeck and Kruczkowski, 2015) are a set of quality tests agreed nationally by The Design Council, the Housebuilders’ Federation and Design for Homes to ensure that the design of new homes and the spaces that surrounds them are as attractive, functional and sustainable as possible. The scheme uses 12 question that are scored using a traffic light system. The Design Council offers an accreditation scheme that developers can apply for related to proposals that have received planning approval.
4.222 The 12 Building for Life questions are:
- Integrating into the neighbourhood (covering Connections, Facilities and services, Public transport, Meeting local housing requirements)
- Creating a place (covering Character, Working with the site and its context, Creating well defined streets and spaces, Easy to find your way around)
- Street & home (covering Streets for all, Car parking, Public and private spaces, External storage and amenity space)
4.223 Durham County Council have adopted an in-house review process to assess schemes against the Building for Life Standards. Their related Supplementary Planning Document formalises the review process and establishes the guidelines and standards for its operation (Durham County Council, 2019a). The aim is to use this process to obtain improvements in the design of proposals submitted by developers. The Building for Life Standards are a requirement in the emerging County Durham Local Plan. Durham County Council’s Building for Life review process covers all major residential-led schemes of 50+ units (or 1.5 hectares+), as well as any smaller schemes in particularly sensitive locations at the discretion of Durham County Council. It would seem appropriate that all developments within Our Neighbourhood should be reviewed, because of the sensitivity of the World Heritage Site and the Durham City Conservation Area.
4.224 Many policies in this Neighbourhood Plan would contribute to the achievement of green traffic light scores to these Building for Life questions, e.g. Policies S1, H2, H3, G1, T1,T2, and T3.
Next section: Theme 5: A city with a modern and sustainable transport infrastructure