Cornwall Council Design Guide: Using ‘Building with Nature’ to define high-quality green infrastructure in policy

The Cornwall Council Design Guide supports the Cornwall Local Plan, by offering a comprehensive guide to design quality in Cornwall. By providing clarity on what is expected from development in Cornwall, the Council is helping to inspire and guide the delivery of high-quality places to live, that respond positively to cross-cutting issues like climate change adaptation, nature recovery creating healthy environments and enhancing the distinctiveness of Cornwall.

The challenge

The key challenge is to deliver ambitious targets for new housing whilst providing a consistent and effective response to the climate and ecological emergencies, retaining Cornish distinctiveness and enabling healthy living. The council needed a measurable approach that delivers better placemaking for people and wildlife, creating climate resilient developments that deliver biodiversity gains, and that could guarantee these benefits in the long-term.

The solution

The Design Guide offers a comprehensive guide to design quality that sits at the heart of the planning process in Cornwall. Drawing from national policy and guidance, including the National Design Guide, supporting the Cornwall Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans, and informing the emergent local Design Codes, the Design Guide was created to be used by a range of decision makers and key stakeholders, including planning applicants, officers, and elected members.

The guide localises the ‘10 Characteristics of Good Design’ set out in the National Design Guide - Context, Identity, Built form, Movement, Nature, Public spaces, Uses, Homes and buildings, Resources, and Lifespan. This means that it is guided by a set of design drivers which contribute to good placemaking and place-keeping. Utilising the Building with Nature Standards helps provide a clear definition of GI, complemented by a framework of holistic design principles, which ensure that development management decisions - guided the Design Guide –support the Council’s wider strategic objectives.

The structure of the Design Guide supports interpretation of GI objectives for every type and scale of development, by highlighting which sections will be most relevant to different applicants i.e. change of use and infill projects, small housing projects up to 5 new dwellings, and large residential and mixed-use projects.

Gaining a Building with Nature Policy Award for the Design Guide provided Cornwall Council with the assurance that the policy document provides a clear framework for local GI solutions that support Cornwall’s strategic approach to placemaking.

The impact

The Design Guide provides practical how-to guidance to a range of stakeholders, including developers and housebuilders, illustrating how to meet Cornwall’s strategic approach to placemaking and biodiversity gains. It also responds to the Council’s ambition to deliver climate resilience and become the first net zero carbon region of the UK. In addition, the Design Guide supports other council schemes, for example the Council’s approach to Making Space for Nature.

By providing a clear definition of GI requirements in policy, the Council enable developers to understand early on in the design process what is required, and support development management teams in their conversations with developers as projects move through the planning process.

By referencing both Building for a Healthy Life and the Building with Nature Standards in the Design Guide, as well as the Climate Emergency Development Plan Document, the Council are signposting developers to frameworks that encourage best practice in delivering high-quality placemaking. Developers using these frameworks are able to achieve viable design solutions that meet policy requirements. An example of this can be seen at Church Road, Illogan. Following a requirement from the Council to improve the planned GI on site, the developer enhanced the planned GI features and added additional GI features to the designs, enabling the Council to grant permission for the scheme. The improvements to the GI were facilitated by the application of Building with Nature Standards to the designs, and the developer went on to apply for a Building with Nature Award – providing an independent verification that the scheme met the BwN Standards and delivered high-quality GI on site.

To support the policy requirements in the Design Guide, the Council are using the BwN Standards Framework and voluntary accreditation process on Council-led projects. In doing so, the Council are demonstrating to all local stakeholders a tested approach to delivering high-quality GI at sites across the county, including:

  • Langarth Garden Village (BwN Design Award December 2021)
  • Castle Park, Liskeard (BwN Full Award (March 2022)
  • Glasney College & Saracen Way Woodland, Penryn (BwN Full Award August 2022)
  • Ridgegrove Park, Launceston (application for Award submitted to Building with Nature)
  • Swanvale open space, Falmouth (application for Award submitted to Building with Nature)

How is the approach being sustained?

The Design Guide requires the delivery of high-quality of GI now and into the future. The Guide states that long term stewardship should be planned for from the outset of the design process, providing adaptability for changing needs and evolving technologies, and provides detailed guidance to support this process. This is then supported by new policies developed using the BwN principles in the Climate Emergency DPD. By making this requirement explicit in policy, the Council support the ongoing activity of development management teams in requiring long term stewardship plans are developed at an early stage in the planning process.

Lessons learned

Providing clear and practical guidance enables an uplift in the quality of applications coming forward. It also helps to provide a framework of standards for a number of players across development and decision makers to understand what good green infrastructure looks and how it operates. This facilitates discussions between the Council and developers as projects move through the planning process.

By setting clear expectations early in the design process, the Council is more likely to achieve good quality schemes and better functioning green infrastructure with the required stewardship arrangements planned for and realised.


Robert Lacey, Planning Policy Group Leader: [email protected]