Beauty is in the eye of the freeholder – how a new national design code might influence the UK property market

In recent weeks, the UK government announced its intention to revise the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and has published a draft national model design code that will play a central role in banishing “ugliness” from future housing developments. This course of action has been set forth in response to the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ commission report. The model code, with hopes to be adapted by communities all over England, was devised by Wolfson-Prize winning urbanist David Rudlin.


The code provides a checklist of design principles and measures to consider for new developments such as street character, greenery, building type and façade. As well as these more traditional constraints, wellbeing factors, such as the accommodation of up to 1.5 million GBP for communities to nominate local heritage sites for inclusion in their council’s local heritage list. Moreover, all councils will be encouraged to publish their unique design code, allowing residents to have a real say in the design of new developments in their area.


Current intentions aim to pilot the code among 20 communities, with expressions of interest already open for the first 10 councils that want help creating their own versions. Successful authorities will be eligible for a share of 500,000 GBP – equating to around 50,000 GBP each – from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). They will also receive support from a new Office for Place which is to be created “within the next year”, according to housing secretary, Robert Jenrick. This will “pioneer design and beauty within the planning system”, according to housing secretary, Robert Jenrick. Naturally, this particularly propitious démarche has been met with immensely positive reactions, yet the implications for the country’s property market are still uncertain.


Among a spate of trends within the UK property market throughout 2020, a standout feature has been a surge in sales within the UK’s prime residential market and moreover a large number of overseas buyers. According to data gathered by Knight Frank, 60% of sales within the UK’s ‘super-prime’ residential market were attributed to overseas buyers, with 1.18 billion GBP being spent on super-prime, ‘luxurious’ properties in London between January and August 2020, in comparison to 977.5 million GBP during the same time period in the previous year. Despite the turbulence faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, among other factors, there has still been a surge in overseas buyers within the upper-end of the UK property market.


The temporary stamp duty holiday introduced in July 2020 created an increase in house prices at the opposite end of the market, however, the upper end has been impacted through other channels. Savills’ prime property market report found that after years of underperforming, the country house market rose in value by an average of 5.5% during 2020, marking the strongest price performance for this sector since 2010. It is likely there will continue to be great interest in the UK’s prime residential market. However, it is quite unlikely that the influx of overseas buyers has been due to the UK’s ‘beautiful’ architecture, as opposed to mere investment decisions. The upper end of the housing market has proven to be a promising investment during 2020, and as such, the implementation of a linchpin strategy to pioneer beauty within UK housing developments is unlikely to attract foreign buyers on a visual basis alone.


Many overseas buyers relocate to the UK for employment and hence opt to reside in large cities where the new design code will not be effectuated. What this will do however is make owning an attractive, detached property much more feasible for UK first-time buyers, and will likely lead to a noticeable rise in residents choosing to relocate to suburban communities where the plans are first set to be implemented, perhaps creating a rise in rural property prices and thus easing the rapid increases in city property prices.


By Daniel Gaskin

Sector Head: Theo Thomas