Appealing design, the evidence of planning appeals

For decades local planning authorities up and down the country have been reluctant to refuse poorly designed residential and other developments on design grounds. Six perceptions have underpinned this reluctance:

• Design is too subjective, potentially opening up planning judgements to challenge

• Quantity not quality is prioritised in national policy and decision-making

• Housebuilders are too formidable and will eventually wear local planning authorities down

• Good design takes too long to negotiate, time which already stretched planning officers don’t have

• Design is an afterthought as too often outline applications limit what can be achieved in design terms

• Costs will be awarded against cash strapped local planning authorities for refusing on design grounds

Drawing on recent planning appeals data, Appealing Design sought to test whether these perceptions were valid in the light of policy changes in the NPPF dating from July 20th 2021. The research used a simple content analysis methodology to examine Inspector’s reports and associated appeal documentation in around half the major appeals heard in England in 2021. From this sample, those that primarily focussed on design were singled out for investigation and analysis. Pre- and post-revision appeals were compared, and findings were also examined against historic data on planning appeals.

In concluding that none of the six perceptions are any longer true, this landmark study has provided the evidence that planning authorities need to confidently pursue their local design aspirations as a full and integral part of their planning mission