The Design Deficit, Design skills and design governance approaches in English Local Authorities

In 2017 the Place Alliance and Urban Design Group conducted a survey of urban design skills in local authorities across England (, the first such survey since 2003. It concluded that:

“Urban design skills and capacity within local planning authorities are woefully low and declining … Critical gaps now exist within local planning authorities, including the ability to produce proactive design guidance in-house with a focus on positively shaping the future of places.”

The Housing Design Audit for England
 that followed three years later concluded that the design of new housing developments in England remained overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’, with three quarters of the 142 schemes surveyed falling into those categories. The two are strongly related.

This new report looks again at the question of urban design skills in local authorities, the lack of which numerous reports over many years, including that of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission have highlighted as a key barrier to raising the general standard of our built environment across the country. This report summarises the findings of a short survey of urban design skills and approaches within England’s local planning authorities, and how they have changed over time.

Reviewing the evidence, it is possible to conclude that whilst urban design and related skills in local authorities have stabilised, they remain at a low ebb and far below where they need to be in order to address the ambitious national agenda on raising the design quality of new development. Signs of the growing use of design review and design codes are positive, but recruitment of design officers into local government remains challenging, proactive community engagement in design is minimal, and design related training remains basic.

At the current rate of change it will take until 2077 to have at least one urban design officer in every local planning authority in England.


A Place Alliance report funded by the Urban Design Group and supported by the Design Council (add hyperlinks)