In a move to try and encourage higher quality residential developments, the Design Council published the Building for Life 12 industry standard methodology of ensuring the good design of housing and neighbourhoods, in 2012. Now on the second edition, Building for Life 12 (hereafter BfL12) is now becoming a widely used tool by house builders and local planning authorities to ensure new residential developments are well considered.
The framework encourages developers, stakeholders and local planning authorities to move away from the usual topic by topic assessment, to the following 12 criteria:
- Facilities and services;
- Public transport;
- Meeting Local Housing Needs;
- Working with the site and its context;
- Creating well defined streets and spaces;
- Easy to find your way around;
- Streets for all;
- Car parking;
- Public and private spaces; and
- External storage and amenity space.
The process places more emphasis on the spaces between the proposed dwellings, than the houses themselves.
Whilst developers and local planning authorities can use the guide as an assessment framework either prior to, or after submission, in our experience, having delivered several ‘outstanding’ BfL12 schemes, it is best employed from the outset. Some of our Clients have committed to using the design framework through the pre-application process, whilst volunteering to have their proposals peer reviewed by industry market leaders. The process also encourages other key stakeholders, including local planning authorities and highways authorities to engage in the design review process. Usually involving several meetings with the design review panel, the process culminates in a BfL12 assessment, which assesses schemes against the 12 criteria, utilising a traffic light system. Whilst 9 ‘greens’ guarantees a pass, 12 ensures the schemes are ‘outstanding’ in their design.
Whilst to some this might seem an overly complex process to ensure good design, in our experience the benefits are obvious. The upfront work has meant that our Clients have been able to commit to submitting a far more detailed planning application that would have traditionally been made, in the knowledge that very few objections are likely to be raised by that stage – they should have already been designed out. Even details such as plans identifying refuse collection points and storage areas are provided so that well designed streets are not ruined by unsightly wheelie bins!
Local Planning Authorities benefit from being able to inform the design process, rather than just react to schemes; residents get a far better understanding of how a scheme is likely to work over the longer term; and our Clients are achieving planning permissions quicker and the level of detail provided in the submission enables them to get on site and deliver housing faster. I am certain that the better quality product will also deliver better margins and at a faster rate.
LRM Planning are now Building for Life 12 advocates, but we are not alone. Indeed, the Government has recently endorsed its use stating that they:
“…recognise the value of using a widely accepted design standard, such as Building for Life, in shaping and assessing basic design principles. These principles are crucial to the success of a scheme, but often get less attention than what a house looks like. They should be reflected in plans and be given sufficient weight in the planning process.”
With Government backing, I can well see the process being referenced in an amendment to the NPPF and from my perspective, that would be a very welcome addition. The focus should not solely be on housing supply; there is a need to ensure the increase in both the supply and the design of quality new housing developments.