Secretary of state says design of too many developments is not good enough

Michael Gove has promised to use “all the government’s powers” to ensure that unattractive developments are refused planning permission.

In his first major speech since his re-appointment by PM Rishi Sunak levelling up and housing secretary, Gove said that ensuring new housing schemes were beautiful was key to ensuring local consent for development but that the design of many current developments was “disappointing”.

Gove also used his speech to reboot the design code agenda developed during his previous tenure as housing secretary, and said he would make it easier for developers to secure planning permission if they adhered to codes.

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Michael Gove said unattracitve schemes would not be built

Speaking to the Centre for Policy Studies’ Margaret Thatcher Conference on Growth, Gove said: “For those who have seen new houses built, the fact is that so many house builders are using a restrictive pattern book with poor-quality materials, and the aesthetic quality of what they produce is both disappointing and also not in keeping with the high aesthetic standards that may already exist.

“We will see the wide adoption of design codes and ways in which individuals can appreciate how it is easier to secure planning permission if you build in a way that is consistent with those design codes.

“We will use all the powers we have in order to make sure that developments which are not aesthetically of high quality don’t go ahead.”

The government has the power to call in major developments for determination centrally where schemes are permitted in defiance of national planning policy.

In March the government kickstarted a review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which Gove is now likely to push ahead with, which could further embed design standards into national planning policy.

However, in July 2021 the government already updated the NPPF to strengthen its policies around design quality, and to require every council to “prepare design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, and which reflect local character and design preferences”.

Since these changes to the NPPF, the revised policy has already been relied upon in a number of high-profile planning appeal decisions, including the Westferry Printworks scheme and the 1,000-home Brighton Marina, to justify refusals.

Gove, who said late last month that he stood by the 2019 manifesto pledge to build 300,000 homes a year, said that communities would only support such a level of housing if it delivered against principles of “beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment and neighbourhood”, and that communities understandably “don’t want ugliness to be imposed on them”.

He also used the speech to accuse developers of “manipulating” councils to avoid paying necessary planning contribution for local infrastructure such as schools, roads and affordable housing, and said too many developments were poorly built, with “far too many faults and defects”.