The Urban Design Group (UDG) recently launched Building for a Healthy Life (BHL), the latest in a series of publications aimed at helping to improve the design quality of new homes and neighbourhoods. Here Leo Hammond, Urban Design Associate Director at LSH and Chair of the UDG, provides an overview of the key considerations set out within the publication.
The latest edition of the Building for Life series, BHL has been updated in line with new legislation and refinement based on best practice but, most importantly, it has been written in partnership with Homes England, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and integrates the findings of the three-year Healthy New Towns Programme.
If you are familiar with Building for Life, you will notice that Building for a Healthy Life’s 12 considerations move away from the 12 questions in Building for Life 12. The authors describe this as a tactical shift in emphasis, as good design requires more time, analysis and thought.
One key change from Building for Life 12 is the chapter on streets, where BHL promotes healthy streets with more space for cycling and pedestrians; a vital ingredient for fighting obesity, promoting sustainability and enabling social distancing in the wake of COVID-19. Another change is a focus on the space between the back of pavement and the façade of buildings and outside amenity space, especially for apartments, both of which are areas where practice needs to improve and this focus is to be applauded.
The most successful change in approach from previous editions is the inclusion of excellent photos and visual prompts, directing readers to components of successful and unsuccessful places. There are some brilliant examples of recent developments, demonstrating how various criteria in BHL can be successfully designed. It would have been good if the document had provided a list of the good practice projects in an appendix. On the flip side there are photos of bad practice, which leave you scratching your head as to how such a bad environment could actually be commissioned, designed, given planning approval and built.
Much like its predecessors, the guidance in BHL is sensible and thought provoking. However, a few of the points do seem a little out of touch with reality, for example, 3m radii on street junctions is not permissible for many highway authorities as, in many cases, this will not allow a refuse truck enough space to make a turn.
Enforcing good practice
As ever, the biggest challenge for BHL, and any design guidance document for that matter, is what gives the document ‘teeth’ to ensure good practice is enforced. This question is still unanswered.
Despite BHL being mentioned in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and in local plans there is still a lot of bad design across the country. However, there is a carrot for those who do follow the guidance, in that Homes England utilise BHL as an evaluation tool for selecting bidders for land dispersals.
The Urban Design Group
Founded in 1978, the UDG is a campaigning membership organisation with over 1000 members who care about the quality of life in our cities, towns and villages, and believe that raising standards of urban design is central to its improvement.
Leo Hammond is the current Chair of the UDG, is a Chartered Town Planner, a panel member on the Hackney Estate Regeneration Design Advice Group, an Academician at the Academy of Urbanism, an Urban Design Tutor for the Bartlett and a Future of London Alumni.
He is also responsible for starting-up and developing the Urban Design Team at LSH and is currently leading urban design projects, including outline planning applications, planning briefs, design codes and feasibility projects across a range of scales and contexts with a national team of planners, regeneration and viability professionals.
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