RTPI training – Lessons Learned from the National Model Design Code (NMDC) pilot 


Design South East partnered with Portsmouth City Council (PCC) as part of the phase 1 NMDC testing programme in 2021. The pilot project had a number of strands:

  1. A design codes training day for PCC’s newly formed cross-departmental Estate Renewal Working Group (ERWG) and other PCC officers to bring everyone together and build stronger ‘design buy-in’ across departments. It explained the ten characteristics of well-designed places, the development and application of design codes, and the role that different council departments could play in informing the development of design codes.
  2. An online engagement to explore officers’ understanding of how good design could support them to achieve the council’s overarching objective of supporting the quality of life of its residents through the delivery of well-designed places.
  3. A Place Audit as a case study of the Horatia & Leamington Estate with Portsmouth’s ERWG. This involved a series of guided walkabouts around the estate to understand shared agendas, objectives and aspirations for the future of the estate, using a Miro board to capture feedback.
  4. A ‘How To’ guide to design coding for estate renewal that will be adopted by the Council as an SPD and will underpin any future discussions or joint guidance with other Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) where PCC owns land outside the council boundary.
  5. Testing workshops will take place with the ERWG, Policy and Development Management officers, and the H&L Community Panel to ensure that the guide will lead to ‘locally popular’ development through the renewal process.

The case study estate

Horatia House and Leamington Houses are two council-owned 1960’s tower blocks in Somerstown, near Portsmouth city centre. They have been identified for demolition and redevelopment to provide new affordable and social homes, led by the Council’s Strategic Development team as client. A design team, led by Karakusevic Carson Architects (KCA), started work in May 2021 to lead the design development, with ongoing community input into the process.



The pilot project has led to the production of a (draft) ‘Design Coding for Estate Renewal’ guide for PCC. The guide highlights elements of exemplary community engagement, informed by the case study at H&L, and illustrates how this can inform the design coding process to ensure ‘provably popular’ design outcomes. It sets out some key considerations for successful estate renewal in relation to the 10 characteristics of well-designed places, providing direction on what aspects to code for in an estate renewal project, supported by examples of good practice. It suggests what types of design code, guidance or strategy might be produced through the process, informed by feedback from stakeholder engagement.

Lessons learned

  • Ensure the brief is clear and agreed with different departments and directorates before starting your design code project.
  • Clearly communicate an engagement strategy for the design coding process.
    (How will I keep everyone engaged?)
  • Collaboration is essential.
    (Is there an energetic project lead and are everyone’s roles clear?)
  • Design Code training helps to embed a strong design culture across teams and directorates.
    (Is everyone on board and why they should engage with this project?)
  • Engagement in design coding is about understanding people’s lived experiences of a place.
    (Are we communicating in a language that makes sense to everyone?)
  • Use the engagement feedback to identify what should be coded.
    (What do stakeholders want from the renewal process?)
  • Use the design principles to inform the design coding process.
    (What should design codes achieve?)
  • Set a narrow scope for the design coding project.
    (Are we all agreed on the objectives?)
  • Identify the issues that are specific to the type of scheme/area that you are coding for.
    (What is important to get right for council housing estates?)
  • Design coding must be context-led.
    (How can you code for context?)
  • Don’t try to control everything through design codes.
    (Are we concentrating on the key design issues for social housing estates?)
  • Don’t get hung up on the word ‘code’!
    (Take a flexible approach and go with the concept of ‘musts’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds’)