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New developments must start with net zero and nature recovery, says RTPI and RSPB

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are calling for a new generation of design codes, which put net zero, nature recovery and equality at the front of the planning and development process in their new joint report released today.

Emma Marsh, Director of RSPB England, said, “Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to wildlife and humans, and nature is in freefall. This research shows how the location and design of future growth must be informed and directed by the impact that it has on carbon emissions and on habitats, green and blue infrastructure and our amazing wildlife that depends upon them."

All local authorities in England are expected to provide design guidance for development sites. However, the potentially transformative role of design codes are often introduced towards the end of the development process to set standards for building heights, typologies and aesthetics.

“The planning system is responding to the imperative of net zero, but we must, at the same time, act to arrest an unprecedented decline in nature and biodiversity,” said Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the RTPI. “This guidance and the illustrative design codes will make sure that local developments deliver nature-rich places and meet England’s net zero goals.”

The RTPI’s research ‘Cracking the Code: How design codes can contribute to net-zero and nature’s recovery’ was conducted in partnership with the RSPB and led by planners at independent consultancy LDA Design. The project benefitted from support by data, climate and transport specialists, City Science, and ecologists, BSG.

Frazer Osment, Chair of LDA Design, noted the serious ramifications of the research. “It shows that national policy needs to be more strategically integrated, with climate, smart energy and nature being given equal weight to housing, transport and economic growth. The National Model Design Code needs to put far more emphasis on climate and nature and what this means for design characteristics and good design.”

Researchers identified five key themes that can help design codes contribute to the success of new developments:

  • An introduction of design codes earlier in the development process
  • A new and far stronger focus on how to deliver net zero and nature recovery
  • A robust framework for environmental assessments
  • An intentional delivery of the community’s vision for the place
  • Carbon and nature to be prioritised throughout the design and development process
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