Design governance in the built environment: Facilitating the use of design codes
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentArchitecture, Built Environment and Planning
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
Work by Carmona et al has supported the national drive for better design
in the built environment, helping to mainstream ideas about the importance
of urban design and develop tools for design governance. A major strand of
this research has focused on the use and potential of design codes in
England, and has been a major contributor to their widespread adoption. As
a result, by 2012, some 45% of local authorities and 66% of urban design
consultants had used design codes.
From the mid-1990s UK government policy took a turn towards more active
promotion of better design in the built environment. Over the following
decade, research in the UCL Bartlett School of Planning (BSP) provided
much of the underpinning research supporting this shift in the areas of
design value, street design, public space management, design policy and
guidance, the measurement of quality, and the use and utility of design
codes. This latter work, led by Professor Matthew Carmona between 2003 and
2012, exemplifies the design governance research at UCL.
Following interest expressed in the potential of design codes by national
government, and consternation in the architectural press about the limits
this was perceived to place on design freedom, Carmona led a review of the
use and potential of design codes in 2003-04. This study built on
Carmona's earlier research on design guidance at UCL and established an
analytical framework that moved the discussion away from a preoccupation
with aesthetics [a]. Instead, it set the debate on design coding
within a larger four-part framework that focused on the fundamental issues
- residential development process;
- key contexts which impact on design coding (i.e. site, policy, market,
stakeholder and regulation);
- the components of place shaped by codes; and
- potential outcomes from coding (better quality, certainty of process,
integration of stakeholder inputs, community engagement, and speed of
Evaluating each of these issues, and their inter-relationships, was vital
if the true impact of coding was to be fully understood.
It was within this framework that a full-scale national pilot programme
to evaluate design coding was commissioned from CABE by Government,
beginning in 2004 [b]. This utilised a research methodology
developed by Carmona in which each element of the analytical framework was
interrogated via seven large scale pilot projects around the country over
an 18-month period from 2004-05, alongside nine detailed case studies of
coded projects that were already being built. By way of comparison, four
schemes that did not use coding, but used other forms of detailed design
guidance, were also studied. UCL researchers were embedded within each of
the design/ development teams to observe and record progress and to
interview all key stakeholders at different stages of the coding process.
Ultimately, the results were drawn together by Carmona who authored the
research report [b] published by the Department of Communities and Local
Government (DCLG). This resulted in the associated academic publications [a]
and [d], the latter of which reviewed and revealed the potential
for codes to bring stakeholders together in a more consensus based
Carmona was subsequently commissioned by DCLG to author a practice guide
for professionals in order to promote the use of design coding in practice
and disseminate the research findings. Preparing Design Codes, A
Practice Manual remains the key source for practitioners preparing
design codes in the UK today [c]. In effect the guide establishes
when and when not to use codes and defines an `optimum' design coding
processes based on a developed version of the original analytical
framework. The process has now become the standard across the UK as
revealed in a follow-on project for the Urban Design Group six years
later, in 2012. This latest research conducted by Carmona and published in
Design Codes, Diffusion of Practice in England involved a national
survey of urban design practitioners and local planning authorities [e],
and demonstrated the national take-up of coding, following the original
research, as an innovation in mainstream development practice, as will be
References to the research
[a] Carmona, M., Marshall, S. & Stevens, Q. (2006) `Design
Codes, Their Use and Potential', Progress in Planning, 65 (4):
201-290. [DOI: 10.1016/j.progress.2006.03.008]
Heavily cited (32 in Google Scholar); Commended (joint runner-up) for the
AESOP Prize Best Paper in 2007.
[d] Carmona, M. (2009) `Design Coding and the Creative, Market and
Regulatory Tyrannies of Practice', Urban Studies, 46 (12):
2643-2667. [DOI: 10.1177/0042098009344226]
The quality of the underpinning research is demonstrated by the following
• Carmona, M. (PI), The Development and Use of Design Codes in the UK,
CABE, November 2003 — June 2004 (£52,332). This grant led to output [a]
• Carmona, M. (PI), Design Code Pilot Programme Research and
Evaluation, ODPM, June 2004 — November 2005 (£153,502). This grant
led to outputs [b] and [d] above.
• Carmona, M. (PI), Design Codes A Good Practice Guide, CLG,
March — June 2006 (£40,000). This grant led to output [c] above.
• Carmona, M. (PI), Design Codes, Diffusion of Practice in England,
UCL / Urban Design Group, May — September 2012 (£5,000). This grant led to
output [e] above.
Details of the impact
A combination of UCL research between 2004 and 2006, later follow-up
work, and dissemination through nearly 30 conferences and seminars in the
UK and worldwide from 2004-13 has established the effectiveness of design
codes in the delivery of high-quality residential design in England and
overseas. In the process, research by Carmona et al has become the primary
source for advice on the preparation of design codes for practitioners and
local authorities alike.
Change in policy and practice:
Research described in Section 2 provided the primary evidence base for
the direct endorsement of design codes in the Barker Review of Land
Use Planning (2006) (Recommendation 24 , and Planning
Policy Statement 3: Housing (2006), the UK government's strategic
housing policy for England. The latter recommended that `Local
Planning Authorities should ... promote the use of appropriate tools and
techniques, such as Design Codes', in order to `facilitate
efficient delivery of high quality development' [2; para 18].
It remained in force throughout 2006-12, with three editions, the most
recent of them in 2011. In 2012, all planning policy statements were
replaced by a unified National Planning Policy Framework which once again
directed that `Local planning authorities should consider using design
codes' as a means to `help deliver higher quality outcomes'
[3; para 59] — and all this despite wider simultaneous moves
The research work was widely referenced by the UK government and its
- Policy and practice documents supporting a dimension of the research
that explored the designation of Local Development Orders (LDOs)
alongside design codes on the basis that they can speed up the planning
process whilst delivering design quality [d; Appendix 1].
Initially this found support in CLG Circular 01/2006, then in
the 2008 Killian Pretty Review of the planning system [4;
- The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) published Urban Design
Compendium 2 in 2009, which includes specific reference to the
underpinning UCL research on design codes:
`Research has found that it is sites such as these (large sites where
delivery is phased either over time or between different design teams)
that benefit most from the use of design codes.' The document thus
endorses the practice guide and goes on to summarise key findings from
the research regarding the benefits of design coding for stakeholders [5;
- The 2012 online guidance of ATLAS, the government funded independent
advisory service on large scale development, which advocates the use of
design coding in their work in order to fulfil one of their corporate
objectives, to improve the speed and quality of major housing
developments. In doing so they draw from the research to shape their own
advice to clients on the use of design codes, quoting Preparing
Design Codes: A Practice Manual [c] as `the key reference'
[6; item T2.9]. This emphasis is reflected in its discussion of
means to ensure design quality through case studies of successful
projects it has advised on, for example, a successful proposal in 2010
to develop west of Waterlooville in Hampshire with 3,000 homes. In this
case, ATLAS identified the early submission of design codes as a key
driver on quality and a catalyst in creating a conversation about design
Adoption of design codes:
By providing the evidence base to advocate for design codes, and the
guidance on adopting them, the research has been hugely influential in
driving practice. This was demonstrated through research led by Carmona
for the Urban Design Group (UDG) in 2012, which tested the diffusion of
design coding as a tool in the development process, and revealed the scale
of this influence. From an almost standing start in 2003, by 2012 around
45% of local authorities (geographically spread across England) had used
design codes and 66% of urban design consultants had prepared them [8;
pp. 6-7]. From the data it was estimated that over 120 design codes
had been Impact census periodprepared between 2006 and 2012 (85% of these
after 2008), compared to a smattering before, with the rate of adoption
continuing to climb year on year [8; p. 2]. It was found that the
research and accompanying guidance was the primary source of advice on the
preparation and use of design codes by local authorities and private
practitioners alike — e.g. West Northamptonshire's 2009 Manual for
Design Codes; in Plymouth's 2009 Design Code Factsheet; or
the 2012 Design Codes for Strategic Development Sites within the
Cambridge Fringe Area .
Taken together, design codes now direct the development of many thousands
of houses over many thousands of acres across England. Taking just one
local authority as an example, since 2006 Swindon Borough Council has used
codes in all four of its major strategic housing sites at Wichelstowe,
Tadpole Farm, Commonhead, and New Eastern Villages, covering 14,580 new
homes on 1,000+ hectares of land .
The survey revealed a wide range of projects across England — from
Ashford to Carlisle — in which respondents reported that the `innovation'
of codes had enhanced both process and outcomes. Indeed, 93% of those who
used design codes reported they would do so again [8; p. 12]. By
2012, design codes were advocated in a quarter of local plans, and the
number was rapidly increasing, whilst a large majority of planning
authorities and urban design consultants who have had not yet used design
codes stated their intention to use them in the future. As one officer
said, `codes are the only way to get volume builders to develop out in
an appropriate integrated manner' [8; p. 12].
As a sign of this significant diffusion of design coding practice, the
UDG study revealed that private developers are now submitting unsolicited
design codes in large numbers as part of planning applications, indicating
how practice has become mainstreamed, whilst survey respondents reported
the following benefits of using the codes [8; pp. 1-2]:
- Improving design quality by tying down the `must have' design
parameters that hold the schemes together, and ensuring consistency in
the delivery of key site-wide design principles;
- Offering far greater certainly about outcomes and certainly to
developers about the process;
- Bringing key stakeholders together early in the process leading to
smoother working relationships and to a better understanding of
constraints from the start;
- Speeding up the reserved matters planning applications made in
connection with the successive phases of large development projects.
As one planner put it: `Well framed codes, based on a clear
understanding of the limits of the client's control and influence have
resulted in a clear uplift in quality, principally in the better
integration of complicated development sites or where the landownership
is a patchwork.' [8; p. 9].
Contributions by UCL research to policy are ongoing. The above diffusion
of practice was further advanced by a recommendation of the Taylor External
Review of Government Planning Practice Guidance (2012) that the
underpinning practice guidance should be incorporated into the new National
Planning Practice Guidance; this was duly done in August 2013 [11;
The reach of these impacts was extended further when the research at UCL
by Carmona et al inspired the HOPUS consortium of universities and
municipalities in the European Union's URBACT programme to focus on the
use and potential of design codes as a tool for improving the
sustainability of housing development. As its `Lead Expert' through the
project's life (2008-10) Carmona advanced the principles and processes of
design coding developed during the research as a basis for local
investigations in Portugal, Italy, Poland, and The Netherlands, which
enabled HOPUS to assess the value of design coding, as well as the
conditions necessary for its success [12; p. 6]. In Poland, for
example, tests carried out in six cities led to the conclusion that design
coding offers a valuable tool to challenge development practice that is
typically driven by a private sector with little interest in design
quality [11; p. 205].
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Barker Review of Land Use Planning (2006) [http://bit.ly/19afVQE,
 Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (2006 / 2011, 4th
edition) [http://bit.ly/1hYNuXH, PDF].
 National Planning Policy Framework (2012) [http://bit.ly/17vEYKZ,
PDF, demonstrating the continuing relevance of the research through the
reflection in national policy].
 Killian Pretty review of the planning system [http://bit.ly/H5KBsl,
PDF, para 2.1.2, linking LDOs with design codes as advocated through the
 HCA Urban Design Compendium 2 (2009, 2nd
edition) [http://bit.ly/19aiVfD, PDF,
p. 128, giving advice on design coding and endorsing the research].
 ATLAS website advice on design coding [http://bit.ly/1bBBhXs,
T2.9 endorsing the research].
 ATLAS case study of West of Waterlooville with design codes [http://bit.ly/1fFbrXa, PDF].
 Study [e] reviewed and subsequently published by the Urban
Design Group Executive Committee [http://bit.ly/1ar9CGc,
PDF, on the diffusion and relevance of design coding practice].
 Research as primary source of advice, e.g. Plymouth (2009) [http://bit.ly/1dCNPBV, PDF, p. 4]
and Cambridge (2012) [http://bit.ly/HqJWSu,
PDF, p. 4].
 Swindon Borough Local Plan 2026 (December 2012) [http://www.swindon.gov.uk/ep/ep-planning/forwardplaning/ep-planning-localdev/Documents/Local%20Plan%20Pre-Submission%20draft.pdf,
PDF, pp. 173-192].
 Continuing relevance of research in national guidance
demonstrated by inclusion in National Planning Practice Guidance on design
coding [http://bit.ly/1aQZkjW, August
2013) following Taylor Review recommendation (December 2012) [http://bit.ly/1hmvEQM,
PDF, Annex B].
 EU URBACT, Housing Praxis for Urban Sustainability (HOPUS) [http://bit.ly/16DGjPM, PDF].