NPPF 9: A seal of approval for innovative visual tools in planning

 It has been months since the revised National Planning Policy Framework 9 (NPPF) was released and, as the dust begins to settle, it can seem like no one is feeling particularly happy or comfortable.

However, we like to break the mould here at H4 and we have to say that we are delighted to see the use ‘innovative visual tools’ being widely encouraged.

What this really highlights is the importance of CGIs and realistic visuals, and how they should be used to properly explore how a proposed development might really look. Where a developer would once present some elevations and plans, they are now being asked to do more to explain what a final development or scheme will actually look like; what its impact would be on the space and how it would affect the surrounding community and environment. Doesn’t sound so bad to us!

Who is unhappy?

In a nutshell, it seems architects are feeling uncomfortable because they have to deliver too much detail too quickly. At a much earlier development stage, they need to be more specific, offering the finer details, to get through planning, which they would previously wait to do much later. This is putting pressure on design times and squeezing the creative process.

Developers get uncomfortable because the local “objectors” can see everything – the extensive details and the use of good visuals, such as CGIs, ensure communities and local neighbours to a particular development can truly see the full extent, effect and impact on their environment. This cannot always be so easily visualised from 2D plans, elevations and impressions. It is now much easier to assess at the planning stage should a scheme be too bulky or too big or too tall. 

Making everyone happy – swifter approval

In most cases the benefits of better visuals will outweigh any disadvantages. Ultimately, providing clear, realistic illustrations at the planning stage, using innovative tools, including CGI and even fly throughs, will lead to swifter approval.

Planning officers should be able to make quicker and better-informed decisions provided the visuals are not misleading and prepared as accurate representations of the true proposal. Previously, the wishy washy water colour pictures could leave a lot to the imagination and were rightly treated with scepticism by planning officers.

The main focus of any designer worth their salt will be on helping developers get planning permission by creating visuals from plans, which highlight environmental issues, spacing concerns and aesthetic details, giving a true representation of the end result and, importantly, identifying potential points of objection in advance. Working together, developers, architects and planners can ensure the design meets what planning officers are more likely to approve on first application.

There should also be an opportunity to be more creative and explore bigger bolder ideas. Terence Conran once said, “most  people don’t know what they want until it is offered to them”. Testing new ideas and creating a vision to warm the hearts of the public and comfort them to understand a new concept or design is now possible, without spending a fortune on prototypes and physical models.

The wise have recognised the potential. CGIs and fly-throughs will, hopefully, allow considered, well-informed decisions to be made, without everyone wading through dozens of plans and elevations (which is what we do every day to turn great designs into works of art).

Using innovative visual tools

So, whether it is a small development or a larger scheme, there can be no excuse to avoid the exploitation of the advanced technology now available to create realistic and detailed visuals in the early stages of the planning process. CGIs for planning through to 3d visuals for de-risking construction. We are not far away from a revolution in the devlopment industry.