Planning Advice Note PAN 67 Housing Quality
Poor design: defining the problem
All development has the potential to contribute to a sense of neighbourhood and what are thought of as urban qualities, such as public spaces that are welcoming. A local authority should not abandon any expectation of achieving such qualities just because a site is classified as suburban. It is in suburban settings that opportunities for good design are most likely to be missed. Planning authorities should be proactive in relation to both urban and suburban sites.
The principles set out in Designing Places are relevant from the largest to the smallest scale. Yet housing is too rarely built in the light of them. Many suburban areas lack character, identity or variety. Too many new homes look as if they could be anywhere. Thoughtlessly chosen standard house types and inappropriate materials look disconcertingly out of place.
New developments too often fail to create successful streets. The accessibility of many new developments depends too much on the car, and the car is often too dominant in the streetscape. Inadequate attention is given to separate and attractive pedestrian routes and links. The relationship of new housing to the wider landscape is not fully considered, and little useable open space is created. The piecemeal redevelopment of some urban sites can result in over development, town cramming and an increase in parking problems in surrounding streets.
Increasingly our cities, towns and villages consist of series of enclaves. Shopping centres, leisure centres, business parks and housing developments are all too often concentrations of single uses, separated by roads. Few developments create real places that have the potential to be the conservation areas of tomorrow.
Houses that could be anywhere
Standard house types
Dependency on the car
Single use separated by roads
For every development opportunity there is a set of conditions that will shape the scheme in the absence of any positive alternative. There may be planning standards (on the distance between buildings, for example) influencing the layout; highway standards (on corner radiuses, road widths, visibility splays, and so on) determining the form of the roads; a builder with standard house designs; professionals with standard ways of doing things; and any number of regulations. Matters such as how much land is available, who owns and controls it and how expensive it is will also be influential.
Achieving good design depends on identifying each of those constraints and showing how something better is possible.
Roundabout as it is...
how it could have looked with landscaping
Some people wonder why housing sometimes seems to be better designed elsewhere in Europe than in Scotland. Part of the answer may be that house buyers have not been presented with a sufficiently wide choice of house types and housing environments. It is also partly a matter of planning authorities not having spelled out clearly in development plans or briefs their aspirations for the area. There is evidence to suggest that the house building industry will respond positively to a well thought out brief, where the standards of layout and design being sought are based on a good understanding of the planning and market context.