Innovative planning and design guidance with a purpose-led approach to embedding health, social impact, inclusivity and equity into new development
Developed by Natasha Reid, founder of Matter Space Soul, based on her long-term cross-disciplinary research and evidence-based approaches towards a “Human Performance” framework.
Implemented for Brent Council in the new draft Residential Amenity and Place Quality SPD. The draft guidance can be seen here and is current out for public consultation until 30th March 2023.
The Place Quality framework puts research into practice in a new way; with people-focused, socially-conscious outcomes as the new benchmark for success. This is supported with new step-by-step design tools that prioritise the human experience of places.
Importantly, it creates a new requirement for a Quality Statement to be submitted with a planning application, to demonstrate how the design of a development specifically benefits people’s quality of life. The approach is structured to address health inequalities, by raising expectations for development in proportion to local needs and the potential impacts.
If adopted, it will be a material planning consideration for this London borough.
Locally-led, evolving and adaptable approach
The approach seeks to make healthy, happy, liveable, vibrant and inclusive places an everyday reality that is accessible to the many, rather than only the few.
So the Place Quality framework is designed to evolve continuously and can be developed for the needs of different places and uses. It is a collaborative tool, that can be informed and updated by latest research and input from many collaborators, whether industry experts or community experts.
Part tool, part call-to-action, it is rooted in the studio's Urban Empathy manifesto . It has been presented as part of Urban Design London's New Ideas for Welcoming Cities session: video
“With the growing evidence and awareness of the significant effects of the built environment on people’s lives, this guidance will contribute to making Brent a healthy, happy, liveable, vibrant and inclusive place.
It helps us set a new benchmark for “Place Quality” that can guide and shape future development in Brent, ensuring we are maximising opportunities for our residents through sustainable growth that is focused on what matters to people and communities.”
Making places that support people’s needs
“The design of the built and natural environment is absolutely critical for physical and mental health”
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England (Feb 2023)
Health and Social Care Committee. Feb 2023
There is significant evidence of how places affect people, their quality of life and even life expectancy - as described through the Social Determinants of Health. Reports like the Marmot review, set out the critically urgent need to create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities, with proportionate intervention in response to greater health inequalities.
But this research is not translating into practical application fast enough. And at a time of multiple, intersecting crises, there is increasing recognition that the thinking that’s gone before cannot solve the complex challenges of today.
Reframing how development is designed and assessed
The Place Quality framework and method purposefully reframes how developments are expected to be designed and assessed for planning permission: To put how places impact people front and centre of the process.
It is a new values-based approach, tool and system that prioritises people-focused, socially-conscious outcomes and the human experience of places - to support what matters to people’s everyday lives.
Demonstrating benefits for people's quality of life
Crucially, it creates new benchmarks for success by requiring the benefits for people to be defined and demonstrated through design as part of the planning process.
In this way, the expectations go beyond conventional measurements of size, numbers or how a place looks (quantitative factors) – to instead focus on outcomes that enrich people’s quality of life (qualitative factors).
Design for quality of life
The qualitative objectives include;
· supporting people’s physical and mental wellbeing;
· enabling social connection;
· building strong and integrated communities;
· encouraging vibrancy and intergenerational mixing;
· nurturing a sense of place and belonging; and
· fostering a sense of ownership.
Addressing health inequalities
Focused on equity, the framework sets of a new system of expectations that are proportionate to people’s needs, the impact of development on new and existing communities and the relationship to health disparities.
For example, there will be greater expectations for proposals in areas of deprivation or for larger schemes, as well as particular types of developments such as high density, high rise, build-to-rent and co-living.
How is it implemented?
To enable a different approach to be implemented, the toolkit offers joined-up, evidence-informed design considerations in relation to the human experience of the built and natural environment, and its impacts on lives. This enables a greater clarity when identifying the qualities (or deficiencies) of development proposals and how the benefits of growth are balanced more equitably.
By providing a step-by-step method, it equips designers, planners, developers and decision-makers with new tools to consider the complex impact of the built and natural environment on people and communities.
The three dimensions of impact are: Health and Wellbeing; Community and Belonging; and Vibrant and Inclusive Places. There are nine criteria that act as “building blocks” for people-focused places. They are underpinned by an emphasis on green infrastructure, since prioritising nature and green spaces brings many benefits for both people and planet.
“Focusing on effective implementation.. is now key to addressing place-based health challenges and reducing inequalities”
RTPI research paper, Enabling healthy placemaking 2020
Benefits for people, communities and built environment industry
The toolkit offers a new and flexible method to bridge the gap between evidence on what needs to be done, and the how. This assists the work of designers, planners, developers and decision-makers and creates awareness of the importance of the built environment in improving health, loneliness and isolation, social cohesion, community participation, inclusivity and equity.
The framework has been shaped to both public sector and locally-specific needs, in a borough experiencing high growth. Rooted in values of equity and empathy, it integrates initial steps towards interventions that are proportionate to need and how we can empower people through place. The framework and tools have been designed to support communities in discussing what are their needs - with a common language focused on lived experience and qualities of place, not only design. .
Long term objectives: Changing what is valued
The design of our cities, neighbourhoods, homes and shared spaces can help us lead healthier, happier and more interconnected lives. The framework has been designed to be adaptable for wide application across different contexts and can be developed to the locally-specific needs of places and communities.
Fundamentally it takes the perspective of acknowledging the built and natural environment as our human habitat. And that we need a cultural shift in shared understandings and systems; to reframe mindsets and change what is valued, to achieve the outcomes that matter to people in their everyday lives.
Share your thoughts / get in touch / collaborate
To find out more about the Place Quality framework or to discuss ideas about future collaboration and projects; please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
The SPD can be seen in full here and is published for public consultation and comment until the 30th March. Please provide any comments to Brent Council through the listed channels. Comments will be published with organisation names.
The SPD (Supplementary Planning Document) has been developed through close collaboration with the teams at Brent Council to shape the Place Quality approach and method for public sector needs and local priorities. Thank you to John Stiles and everyone at Brent involved for all their input, feedback and support; Alice Lester, Gerry Ansell, Ciara Whelehan, Paul Lewin, David Glover, the DM teams who workshopped this together, and fellow PUBLIC PRACTICE Associate Zivile Volbikaite for the SPD illustrations. Thank you to all the councillors involved, particularly Cllr Shama Tatler, Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Planning.