The Government, both in its manifesto and in the recent Housing Green Paper, committed itself to a step change in the delivery of high quality new homes across the country.  New research puts those aspirations in doubt because of worsening design skills gaps in English local planning authorities.

The report, produced by the Place Alliance and the Urban Design Group, summarises the findings of a freedom of information survey of urban design skills within local planning authorities, and how they have changed over the last five years. It concludes that urban design skills and capacity within local planning authorities are woefully low and declining and that these gaps are not being filled by the patchy, albeit increasing, use of design review. It says critical gaps exist within local planning authorities, including the ability to produce proactive design guidance in-house in order to positively shape the future of new housing developments.

The report points to the danger that as we gear up to deliver a greater number of homes nationally, the absence of design expertise locally will result in a new generation of substandard developments. This, for example, includes new housing estates that are dominated by roads and tarmac, lacking any greenery or character, and which are disconnected from public transport and local amenities.

David Tittle, Head of Design Advice at DSE says “The report rightly highlights the problems that local authorities have when budgets are tight and it is a timely reminder to senior officers to check they have the in-house skills they need. DSE certainly does not want to market itself as a cheaper alternative to in-house expertise. We welcome working alongside specialist urban design officers. Sadly, these days some councils conclude that specialist officers are beyond their budgets, but there are other cost-effective measures that they can take. CPD programmes like Kent Design, or bespoke in-house training can raise skills and confidence of generalist planning officers, as can regular attendance at independent design review and design advice sessions.”

The report can be downloaded here