National Model Design Code

A 3D line drawing of two different configurations of plots and blocks
A 3D line drawing of two different configurations of plots and blocks
Project date
  • Guidance
  • Masterplanning
  • Strategy
Associated team members
Associated documents

URBED worked with MHCLG (now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities) to develop a National Model Design Code for the UK, which provides both a methodology and a toolkit of resources to inform the production of design guidance and codes at local level. 

What is a Design Code?

A design code is a set of simple, concise, illustrated design requirements that are visual and numerical wherever possible to provide specific, detailed parameters for the physical development of a site or area. Design codes need to be based on a vision for how a place will develop in the future.

Design codes are important because they provide a framework for creating healthy, greener, environmentally responsive, sustainable and distinctive places, with a consistent and high-quality standard of design. For larger schemes, design codes can help to maintain consistency in the delivery of development over a longer period of time.

This can provide greater certainty for communities about local development and bring conversations about design to the start of the planning process, rather than the end.

How did the NMDC come about?

The Code expands on the ten characteristics of good design set out in the National Design Guide, published in October 2019. The National Model Design Code forms part of the government’s planning practice guidance and should be read as part of the NDG.

How should it be used?

The government understands that quality design does not look the same across different areas of the country, for instance local vernacular differs and design priorities vary for scale and types of development. The NMDC is a toolkit to guide local planning authorities on the design parameters and issues that need to be considered and tailored to their own context, as well as methods to capture and reflect the views of the local community at each stage in the process.

In the absence of local design guidance, LPAs will be expected to defer to the National Design Guide, National Model Design Code and Manual for Streets which can be used as material considerations in planning decisions.

What does the Code focus on?

The National Model Design Code sets a baseline standard of quality and practice which local planning authorities are expected to take into account when developing local design codes and guides and when determining planning applications, including;

  • The layout of new development, including street pattern;
  • How landscaping should be approached including the importance of streets being tree-lined;
  • The factors to be considered when determining whether façades of buildings are of sufficiently high quality;
  • The environmental performance of place and buildings, ensuring they contribute to net zero targets;
  • That developments should clearly take account of local vernacular and heritage, architecture and materials.

Please note: although the 2020 planning White Paper mentions coding in the context of planning reform, URBED was not involved in this work or in the development of such proposals.

In November of 2021 URBED won a National Urban Design Award in the Policy, Strategy and Design Guidance category for this project. You can watch our nomination video here

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