Swindon Borough Council adopts a new Supplementary Planning Document to secure high quality design including a provision for Design Review
RAISING EXPECTATIONS Swindon Borough Council has raised its expectations of good design through a number of initiatives. High quality sustainable development is the first strategic objective and policy within the adopted Local Plan, and the Council has recently launched the Swindon Design Review Panel. The adoption of the Residential Design Guide is the latest step for the Council on this journey to secure high quality design across the Town.
Swindon is a growth town and has set an ambitious target to increase its size by 22,000 dwellings during the current plan period (2011-2026). For a town with a population of 217,000 (2015), this level of growth is challenging in many respects. Nevertheless, officers, elected members, residents and many developers in Swindon recognise the value of investing in good design versus the long-term cost to place and society that poor design brings.
The Residential Design Guide was adopted as a Supplementary Planning Document in June 2016 by Swindon's Planning Committee. It underwent an 8 week consultation and a wide range of responses were received including local societies, architects, housebuilders, utility companies and national statutory bodies. These responses resulted in refinement of the document to ensure a balance between fixed requirements to provide certainty and flexibility to facilitate creativity. Securing high quality design is a core principle of the National Planning Policy Framework and considered by the government as essential to the delivery of sustainable development. The document builds on this and the local policy context to provide guidance around key principles and clarity of the Council's objectives.
The guide is structured to directly align with the adopted Local Plan Policy so that all the urban design principles are afforded weight in the determination of planning applications. This is preferable than sole reliance on the array of guidance out there with plenty of substance but little teeth in the planning process. The Introduction of the document sets out a positive ambition for good design across Swindon’s housing agenda. It calls for a collaborative approach to placemaking; the use of appropriately qualified, skilled professionals; and the need for early engagementand agreement on a shared vision. It also promotes the new Swindon Design Review Panel to drive up standards of design in submissions.
RESPONDING TO PLACE As expected of good urban design, the document sets out a requirement upfront for applicants to respond positively to the existing natural, built and historic environment and to enhance or create distinctive character and identity. This can only be achieved by a thorough understanding of the site and through a vision. Context, character and vision are not mutually exclusive. The elements within a context assessment underpin the inherent character and should shape and inform the vision.
Swindon has an historic Old Town but is also a town of major expansion from the arrival of Brunel's Railway Works, the 1950s London overspill and the present day ambitions for growth. The document provides a matrix of the variety of development forms across the Borough, to inform the design response.
LAYOUT, FORM, FUNCTION, AMENITY and QUALITY OF THE PUBLIC REALM The body of the document expands on each principle of the policy using a series of definitions and explanatory text. These are summarised into a series of short checklists throughout, relative to each principle to enable quick reference. The guide is rich in visual prompts, showcasing many local examples to build on the good design already achieved in Swindon.
LESONS LEARNED There is a strong focus throughout the document on the analysis of design proposals to ensure lessons are learned and previous mistakes are not repeated. This culminates in the final Design Analysis Chapter. By assessing the composition of individual parts that make up places, it is possible to demonstrate how different arrangements impact on design quality and placemaking. One example used in the document contrasts a poor quality terraced housing scheme with a row of railway terraces. It shows that despite similarities in housing typologies and density, the difference in place and character is vast; the one is clearly Swindon and the other could be anywhere and fails the governmentcall for a change from mediocrity (NPPF Ministerial Foreword). The document recogises this and seeks to drive forward astep change in quality at every level. It alsocelebrates the positive aspects of simple,logical layout structures in major developmentsand contrasts strong character withthe ensuing placelessness that occurs whengood urban design principles are ignored.