Better Places – a matrix for measuring and delivering placemaking quality

The government sponsored think tank Policy Exchange has created an Ofsted type of rating system for placemaking, it says it has:

….developed a ground-breaking new tool capable of scoring the placemaking quality of proposed and existing developments. The Placemaking Matrix will seek to identify and collate the placemaking characteristics of any given development and give each one a score, culminating in a final PAX rating that ranges from “Poor” to “Outstanding” and which can be used when determining planning permission.

A powerful new method developed by Policy Exchange to revolutionise the planning process by both speeding up how quickly developments are approved – and ensuring they are genuinely good places to live – was launched this week with the backing of the Housing Secretary Rt Hon Michael Gove MP.

The ‘Placemaking Matrix’ is a detailed checklist that enables the placemaking characteristics of any given development to be rated. The development can then be given a final cumulative score that provides an instant representation of its placemaking quality and can be used when determining planning applications.

It aims to make the planning process simpler, faster and more transparent – allowing residents’ concerns to be more easily addressed and speeding up the approval process. The intention of both the Matrix and the paper is to prompt an uplift in placemaking standards that will ultimately create better places. Also, in delivering greater public confidence in housing quality and thereby helping stem the tide of objections that is so often a disruptive feature of the planning process, the paper hopes to realise the kind of increase in housing supply necessary to address the housing crisis. Finally, by encouraging residents to engage directly with the placemaking detail of proposed developments, residents can be empowered to play a greater role in forging the future of their own communities.

The Architects Journal reviewing the paper says:

Under the proposals, this score would be calculated before planning submission by three ‘PAX assessors’, one of which would be either a local authority officer (though not one assigned as planning officer for the project), urban designer or architect.

In addition to this professional assessor, the paper suggests appointing two more PAX Assessors, who could be anyone from a member of the project team, including a client consultant, to a local resident or member of the public.

The assessors will compile the rating and submit the score with the planning submission, allowing local authorities to use it to assess developers’ proposals.

The Policy Exchange paper comes as the UK grapples with sluggish building rates and ongoing debate over the quality of new-build homes.

The matrix would ‘elevate’ placemaking to a paramount material consideration during the planning process, the report argued, in contrast with the current system, which relies on planners effectively trusting developers will tackle placemaking after plans are approved.

The report says

It is important to note that the Placemaking Matrix does not present itself as a definitive ‘magic formula’ that can conclusively determine design quality and character. While the Matrix sets out to be a universal tool, thelocalised nature of placemaking will inevitably require adaptation to local contexts and conditions.We. of course, applaud this initiative whilst wondering if holding our breath waiting for it to happen is something that health and safety would endorse.

It is very important that the Matrix goes to great lengths to avoid value judgements. In bluntest terms, it does not exist to decide whether stone is better than glass or porticoes are preferable to canopies or cobblestones are more desirable than paving slabs. Instead it seeks to prescribe an objective and dispassionate means of quality assessment that focuses specifically on outcomes rather than processes or preference.

We. of course, applaud this initiative whilst wondering if holding our breath waiting for it to happen is something that health and safety would endorse.

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Last Updated on June 30, 2023 by Kingston Society