ResPublica National Trust The Woodland Trust

We Back Beauty

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We Back Beauty is a campaign to restore the democratic discernment and realisation of beauty to the heart of public policy and local planning in the UK.

Over the next 12 months, ResPublica’s Backing Beauty Commission will look to raise the profile of the concept of beauty in planning and public policy. Building on ResPublica’s July 2015 report A Community Right to Beauty, the campaign will call for higher priority to be given to the concept of beauty, and for the devolution of powers to local authorities and communities to allow them to improve their locales in line with local aspirations.

The planning system as currently constituted is far from optimal. It leaves communities with no capacity to set the agenda for decisions on the future of their area. The status quo results in delay and frustration for communities and developers alike. We feel the planning system has the potential to deliver much more: the widespread experience of beauty in people’s everyday surroundings. Backed by a range of diverse figures including Oliver Letwin MP, Dame Tessa Jowell, Kevin McCloud and Sir Terry Farrell, A Community Right to Beauty argued that beauty is a major contributor to good health and wellbeing, a strong and participative civil society, local economic growth, safe communities, and overall quality of place. But we outlined that beauty is also more than this: it is a determining factor and key driver behind the nature and ethos of a given community, and possesses a wealth of inherent value that cannot be reduced to social and economic analysis.

A wide range of evidence, including ResPublica’s previous research, now points definitively towards the importance of beauty in a range of civic and public policy outcomes. We believe this is the moment to address the question of social justice presented by unequal access to beauty. With the support of the Woodland Trust and National Trust, the Backing Beauty Commission will undertake a range of activity to work towards this aim. Via conversations with national and local policymakers and officials, as well as professional planners and developers, the campaign will work towards achieving a culture change which would see higher priority given to the concept of beauty, as discerned by local people, both in decisions about the future of places and in the everyday upkeep of neighbourhoods. We will also be submitting evidence to inquiries by Parliamentary committees and other bodies on relevant issues. The Commission will be guided by a high-profile Steering Group comprised of leading figures, who can be found on our Backers page.

The Commission’s work will build on the city devolution agenda, as well as existing schemes such as Neighbourhood Planning. We believe that the increasing political priority being given to housing – and housing supply in particular – must be seen as an opportunity to put visual appeal and conformity with community hopes for the look and feel of their area at the heart of any new development or regeneration.

Please visit our Support page to find out how you can get involved in the campaign.

August 2016 update – Thanks to all those individuals and organisations who’ve backed our campaign so far. Over the next few months we will be concentrating our activity in two main areas: feeding into the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech 2016; and developing policy mechanisms to resource local authorities to invest in their public realm and empower civil society to directly help to maintain and improve their area, as discussed in our July 2016 roundtable. If you are interested in feeding into our campaign on either of these issues, please do get in touch!


  • The Prince's Foundation - BIMBY

    The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community’s BIMBY (‘Beauty in my Backyard’) Housing Toolkit is an online tool which allows communities to work with local authorities and developers to create a regional BIMBY Housing Manual. This acts as a guide to developers on the community’s preferred place-making principles, design and materials, ensuring development is in accordance with local desires.

  • Create Streets

    Create Streets has undertaken extensive research into how the popularity of different designs of proposed new build housing affects popular approval for the principle of new housing, finding that the most popular designs can reduce in principle opposition to new housing by up to 50%. The Direct Planning (Pilot) Bill, which had its Second Reading in the House of Lords in November 2015, and into which Create Streets had significant input, calls for pilot schemes to be established where local residents can “participate more directly in developing planning policy”, via mechanisms such as charrette processes and the creation of form-based design codes.

  • NHS - Healthy New Towns

    Based on a recognition that building healthy places to live will bring public health benefits by promoting healthier lifestyles and reducing patients’ medical or care needs in the long-term, NHS England is working with ten pilot sites, announced in March 2016, to encourage new and creative approaches to take advantage of the link between health and the built environment. Strategies to achieve this will include creating inclusive public spaces and walkable neighbourhoods, as well as providing easy access to healthy and affordable food in the local area.