2024-04-22March 25, 20242024-03-25
Model Design Code to be Trialled by Local Councils

Selected councils will trial the use of the National Modal Design Code (NMDC), which will allow them to adapt the code in their area.


In response to the Living with Beauty report that was released in January 2020 by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, the Ministry of Housing has selected 14 Local Councils to trial run one of the aspects of its proposed planning reforms.

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The new organisation called Office for Place is currently being set up by the government and will oversee the implementation of standards to be set by the code in all new developments.

This is a move to ensure that building standards are improved in future developments by making sure that they are aesthetically beautiful and fit in with the character of the area.  Local Authorities will now be able to consider design principles for new developments including how the development would fit in with the street character, building type, how the façade will look and other factors such as environmental, heritage and factors that affect well-being.

The government has pledged £50,000 to each selected local authority to develop their own design codes in the six-month pilot and setting out the design principles for their area.

The selected local councils to test their own NMDC code are:

  • Colchester Tendring & Essex
  • Guildford, Herefordshire
  • Leeds, Mid Devon
  • Newcastle
  • Dacoru
  • Portsmouth
  • Sefton
  • Southwark
  • Hyndburn
  • North-West Leicestershire
  • Nuneaton & Bedworth
  • Buckinghamshire

Ministers for Housing are hoping that councils receive design input from the public to counteract the opinion of some that perceive the plan to be counter democratic as it imposes more control over how developers are allowed to build.

Christopher Pincher, Housing Minister said “We should aspire to enhance the beauty of our local areas and pass our cultural heritage onto our successors, enriched not diminished.  In order to do that, we need to bring about a profound and lasting change in the buildings that we build, which is one of the reasons we are placing a greater emphasis on locally popular design, quality and access to nature, through our national planning policies and introducing the national model design code.

“These will enable local people to set the rules for what developments in their area should look like, ensuring that they reflect and enhance their surroundings and preserve our local character and identity.  Instead of developers forcing plans on locals, they will need to adapt to proposals from local people, ensuring that current and new residents alike will benefit from beautiful homes in well-designed neighbourhoods.”

Anna Rose, head of the Planning Advisory Service, said: “The outcomes from this first set of pilots will help to build the capacity and collective learning that we need across the sector. I am looking forward to seeing what councils can achieve with their communities by using this new code.”

Nicholas Boys Smith, co-chair for the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, said: “The pilots are a very important first step as councils start to grapple again with how they can define visions for development in their areas which are popularly-beautiful, profoundly locally based and will support lives which are happy, healthy and sustainable.”

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), described the trials as “a pragmatic way of identifying problems that may arise in the application of the code”.

She said: “The RTPI has no doubt that only a multi-disciplinary approach – involving planners, architects, developers, ecologists, highways authorities and communities – will lead to effective delivery of quality design outcomes. These pilot programmes should help to identify how these relationships will work in practice. We will keep a close eye on the results.

“However, what is already clear is that substantial extra investment into the planning system will be needed if planners are to play their part fully – almost 90% of our members have told us that they want to prioritise ‘beauty’ in their work but lack the policy support and resources to do so.

“As part of our submission to the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review, we said that a Design Quality Fund of £81m was needed to support cash-strapped local authorities through design training, specialist expertise and design-focused policy.

“These pilot programmes are an encouraging start but it is only through significantly increased funding for local authority planning teams that the government’s ambitions for design codes in every council will be realised.”

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