edge on the National Design Guide symposium


The quality of our streets and places has never been higher on the agenda. With this in mind, edge discusses the National Design Guide symposium.

Policymakers are placing a greater emphasis on the importance of high-quality urban design and placemaking. Exciting recent developments have included the publication of the:


National Design Guide’ in October 2019

(view the full document);


Living with Beauty’; The report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) in January 2020

(view the full document);


and the expected publication later this year of the ‘National Model Design Code’. 


With this in mind, we want to talk about the National Design Guide symposium. The conference was held in the grand surroundings of Nottingham City Council House and was well attended by local planning authority officers and consultants. 

Source: The National Design Guide (2019)


The National Design Guide


The National Design Guide is a material consideration to be taken into account in deciding a planning application or appeal. The Guide, together with the National Model Design Code, will become templates for locally specific guidance. 


The renewed emphasis upon design quality is likely to result in a more significant amount of stakeholder engagement at an earlier stage. It is hoped that guidance and coding will also provide a higher level of certainty in the planning process.  


The Guide describes ten characteristics of a well-designed place with the overarching themes of Climate, Character and Community. It also looks forward with a useful set of prompting questions at the end of each character section. 

Source: Living with Beauty (BBBBC, 2020)


The Changing Public Realm


The conference also discussed the outcomes of the Housing Design Audit for England (January 2020) and the BBBBC’s report. A theme running through the conference was how new technologies are likely to affect the character of our streets and public realm. Car ownership will decline with the increasing popularity of car clubs and in the future shared autonomous vehicles. Reduced parking requirements will create an opportunity to build to higher densities and reclaim streets from the private motor car – sociable streets! 


The BBBBC’s report promotes ‘gentle density’ such as terraces and mid-rise apartment blocks in which homes are more closely placed in the townscape to help create streets, squares and blocks with clear fronts and backs. The Housing Design Audit identifies a positive correlation between better design and higher density.


The climate emergency and changing demographics will also have a more substantial influence on the character of public realm design. This will mean a greater emphasis placed on integrating biodiversity into streets and public spaces and ensuring design principles reflect the needs of older people, particularly those with dementia. 



The conference discussed the exciting opportunities and challenges resulting from rapidly developing technologies, the climate emergency and changes in society. It also reinforced to us that the principles of good design, which start from an understanding and appreciation of local context remain undiminished. 



All photographs and diagrams taken from the National Design Guide (2019) and the Living with Beauty report (BBBBC, 2020).

Sketch by Tereza Kadlecova.

Words contributed by Nick Thomas, Urban Designer.