Nicholas Boys Smith, founder of Create Streets, has been appointed as interim chair for the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission
Nicholas Boys Smith is the founder of Create Streets

Nicholas Boys Smith to lead new government task force to "embed beauty" in the planning system

Create Streets founder Nicholas Boys Smith has been appointed by UK housing secretary Robert Jenrick to lead a national design body that has been tasked with "driving up design standards" for planning applications.

Boys Smith will lead a steering group that will create the government's as-yet-unnamed architecture task force, which will work with local communities to develop legally binding design codes. Once the group's role has been finalised he will lead it as chairperson.

Announcing the appointment, Jenrick said that the body will aim to improve design quality and make beauty a requirement of winning planning.

"For the first time in this country, we are embedding beauty, design and quality in the planning system," he said at the Create Streets conference.

"The creation of a new design body will empower communities to demand developments are built to local preferences and reflect the character and identity of their communities – assigning 'anywhereville' developments to history."

Government appoints heritage advisor too

Boys Smith is the founder of the campaigning group Create Streets, which lobbies for high-density low-rise housing developments in cities. He also previously co-chaired the controversial Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission with the late Roger Scruton.

This commission concluded that developers could be offered a fast track for planning approval if their plans were deemed beautiful.

"New places should be the conservation areas of the future: popular, beautiful, sustainable and supportive of public health and well-being," said Boys Smith following his appointment.

"I am delighted to be asked to help achieve that and look forward to getting stuck in."

Jenrick also appointed architectural historian Charles O'Brien to the post of listing heritage adviser to the government, a centralised role overseeing the protection of old or important structures through local council's planning systems.

Both Boys Smith and O'Brien are commissioners for Historic England.

RIBA slams government "inconsistencies"

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) responded to the appointments by suggesting that architects should be given a role in the new design task force.

"I welcome the government's focus on design, and chartered architects have a critical role in delivering that," said RIBA president Alan Jones.

However, Jones argued there were "inconsistencies" between the design body and the government's recent changes to the UK's planning system.

"Just twenty-two days ago, the extension of the Permitted Development policy took effect, allowing the conversion of offices and shops into housing without adequate space or light, and opening the door to the next generation of slum housing," said Jones.

"How can this possibly support aims to 'place beauty and design quality at the heart of all new developments'?"

Jones previously branded the extension of permitted development "disgraceful".

The appointments follow a government white paper of proposed changes to the planning system, which include automatic approval for developments in certain areas. Prime minister Boris Johnson described the plans as a "radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the second world war".

Critics have warned that the new system could prioritise developers' interests over people in need of quality affordable housing.

Main image courtesy of Create Streets.