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The design process should be as transparent and accessible as possible to demonstrate how the wide agenda for design has been addressed and incorporated in the proposals.

Assessing design

The design of development is subject to numerous statutory and non statutory controls and appraisals, many of which overlap.  

By design

'By design' promotes higher standards in urban design and provides practical advice to achieve this. It describes the objectives of urban design, each of which is supported by a series of considerations that act as prompts to thinking about urban design.  

The objectives cover: 

  • Character
  • Continuity and  enclosure
  • Quality of the public realm
  • Ease of movement
  • Legibility
  • Adaptability
  • Diversity

Design and access statements

Planning applications are now required to be accompanied by a design and access statement. Statements are documents that explain the design thinking behind a planning application and should be undertaken at the outset of developing a development scheme. 

In summary, statements: 

  • Accompany a planning application, but are not part of it.
  • Are needed with most types of application, but not householder applications (except in designated areas) or material change of use (unless it also involves operational development).
  • Are also required for applications for listed building consent.
  • Need to explain and justify what is being applied for, and lastly.
  • Can be linked to planning decisions by conditions if developers are to be required to follow them.

The design process outlined in the following section will provide cues and information to include in these statements. The level and detail required will depend on the scale and sensitivity of the development. CABE has produced a guide called 'Design and access statements – how to write, read and use them.' 

Building for life standards

Residential development proposals are subject to appraisal through the ‘building for life’ standards. Building for life is the national standard for well-designed homes and neighbourhoods and is a partnership between several national agencies.

It is led by CABE and the Home Builders Federation. It promotes and celebrates design excellence and best practice in the house building industry.  

There are 20 building for life criteria listed under the following headings:  

  • Environment and the community.
  • Character.
  • Streets, parking and pedestrianisation.
  • Design and construction.

Usually a score of 12 out of a maximum 20 points is the minimum, 14 points achieves a silver standard, 16 points and above achieves a gold standard. 

Building for life assessments score the design quality of planned or completed housing developments against the 20 building for life criteria. Anyone can undertake an informal assessment but formal assessments, now required by several agencies and local authorities can only be carried out by an accredited building for life assessor. 


BRE's GreenPrint seeks to assist design teams deliver masterplans that maximise the potential for sustainable communities.

It can be applied to a wide range of development types ranging from urban extensions to business parks. The GreenPrint framework covers eight key areas which impact on sustainability: 

  • Climate change - Ensures developments mitigate, and are appropriately adapted to, present and future climate change impacts.
  • Resources - Promotes the sustainable use of resources including water, materials and waste, both in construction and operation.
  • Transport - Ensures transport hierarchy issues are fully addressed and catered for within the development. 
  • Ecology - Ensures the ecological value of the site is conserved and enhanced.
  • Business - Ensures the development contributes to the sustainable economic vitality of the local area and region.
  • Community - Ensures the development supports a vibrant, diverse and inclusive community that integrates with surrounding communities.
  • Placemaking - Ensures the design process, layout structure and form provide a development that is appropriate to the local context.
  • Buildings - Ensures the design of individual buildings does not undermine the sustainability of the overall development.

GreenPrint compliments the code for sustainable homes, BREEAM methodologies and other industry recognised tools and standards such as secured by design and lifetime homes.

The code for sustainable homes, ‘Greenprint’ (BRE) and the BREEAM standards all reinforce and considerably expand the building regulations to ensure the design (from materials, construction, energy, insulation to impact on the site and environment) is sustainable. 

Code for sustainable homes

A code for sustainable homes rating is mandatory in England.  The code has a scoring system of six levels. Most local authorities now require a minimum of code level 3 for the design and layout of houses and apartments.

A number of residential developers aspire to code level 6, which can be achieved if a number of locational and environmental factors are favourable.

Design process

The following sequence of stages outlines the design process and reflects the considerations involved in contributing to sustainable placemaking which is responsive to its context, promotes wellbeing, encourages development with character, and attempts to minimise its environment impact. Whilst this sequence is mainly aimed at larger developments, the considerations are similar for most scales of development. 

Design is intrinsically a balancing act. There can be numerous design solutions, reflecting different priorities but careful thought and skill is needed to identify the optimum solution.

Design process  - diagram

Diagram showing a generic design process for a development project.
As projects differ, so will the details of the process. Design is an iterative process, involving modifications and checking, rather than a purely sequential or linear process.

Case study: Design process for a development site

The following hypothetical site (fig 1) illustrates the design process: 

Stage 1:  the appraisal of the site and its setting.

Stage 2:  the development of a concept.

Stage 3:  an indicative scheme 

In following the design process, the factors identified as essential components of sustainable design and good placemaking will be addressed and integrated into the design of the scheme. The sequence would provide a key input to a design and access statement.


Design process  - case study development site

Stage 1: Appraisal of the site and its setting


Design process  - stage 1

Figure 2 above shows some factors which should be taken into account in assessing the site and its setting.  

Site Appraisal

  • Existing buildings adjacent to the site

Heights, age/style, type/use, materials, condition, density/plot coverage 

  • Boundaries

Materials, height, condition, transparency/ sensitivity, access point(s), potential links 

  • Site Constraints

Air quality, noise, flood risk, underground utilities, culverts, substructures, contamination, rights of way, root spread of TPO trees, setting of listed building(s). Each of these or a combination of these could substantially limit the area of the site which could be developed. 

  • Renewables/Sustainability Potential

Orientation for photovoltaics, ground source heating, biomass growth, exposure for wind turbines.

  • Wildlife/biodiversity

Assessing trees and hedgerows for their support of biodiversity and habitats etc, drainage, changes of level.  

  • Views/skyline

Are there critical views in, out or across the site, which may affect building height or layout?

All site appraisals should be supplemented by desk studies of historic maps which may indicate the footprint of earlier buildings, uses, important boundaries, street alignments and street names. Appraisals also need to take into account the planning history of the site and any planning designations. 

Appraisal of the context or setting of the site

  • Development pattern in the immediate locality

Determine the ‘grain’ and plot coverage of surrounding development i.e. range of plot sizes, the general shape of the development and spaces between buildings.

This analysis helps to assess the ‘capacity’ of the site. Note also the heights and massing of buildings, distance from front boundaries, age, use and materials range. Additionally, local landmarks should be plotted. 

  • Trends

Note socio-economic trends or movement, and sensitivity to change. 

  • Connections

Determine the shortest walking distances to local facilities such as shops and primary schools (this may affect the layout of the proposed development). Identify the nearest bus stops and routes.

Consider the possible location of site entrances related to traffic volume, visibility and safety. Identify possible opportunities to create links to existing nearby streets and footpaths. 

It should be noted that the appraisal is not the mere description of features, but an evaluation of these, e.g. to what extent is a constraint an opportunity? Undertaking a SWOT analysis may also prove useful (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).

Stage 2:  Development of a design

This is the pivotal stage where appraisal and general principles turn to the generation of a design for a scheme. Here we need to ask ourselves what are the main outcomes of the appraisal which will substantially influence the design? 

Examples could include:    

  • The need to protect and incorporate existing trees, hedgerows and the pond into the character of the scheme.
  • The need to respect the privacy of adjacent properties.
  • The existing buildings should be re-used and their character enhanced.
  • The possible creation of a link to the east. 
  • A mix of housing would be appropriate.

In addition we need to ask ourselves what are the principles of sustainability and placemaking which will have a substantial influence on the design? 

Examples could include:   

  • The need to reinstate street continuity and enclosure.  New buildings should create and enclose spaces within the scheme.
  • Cars and roads should not dominate.
  • The scheme should have a character derived from its location (i.e. secluded, yards and gardens, semi-porous surfaces).
  • The orientation and grain of the site suggests that most houses could be aligned to optimise solar gain.
  • Views into the site should be terminated with a building of appropriate scale.

These stated aims should be expressed diagrammatically either by the use of symbols or by using a ‘bubble’ diagram. This diagrammatic stage indicates that a fluidity remains. The actual location and size of buildings is therefore still open to negotiation.

Design process  - figure 3

Design process  - figure 4

Stage 3: indicative scheme

Figure 5 below shows a scheme which responds to the design concept. It should be stressed that there is always more than one response, even to the same objectives.

Design process  - figure 5

Design Studies

The inset sketches illustrate different aspects of the indicative scheme in more detail.

Design process  - sketches





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