Wikis > 6. Property Development > Property Design

Property Design

Too often, a community facility that is no longer considered viable by a local authority will suffer from inherent design shortcomings, which will have led to, or acerbated, the decline of the facility in the first place. To understand how design has an impact on the long term viability of a community enterprise, make use of the free practical publication ‘Making Buildings Work for Your Community’ from the ATU website, featured here.

The document highlights 10 principles for you to consider in designing a community space. Below we have highlighted some of the more practical considerations from these principles and how they might relate specifically to community libraries:

  • Purpose and Identify
  • Flexible
  • Accessible
  • Sustainable
  • Maintenance and management
  • Design
  • Planning Permission

Purpose and Identity

A community library will need to be an inviting, pleasant and ideally an inspirational space that enables learning and discovery.  There are also particular practical specifications that library facilities should have, e.g. standardised approaches to display and storage; appropriate accommodation and space for materials and equipment used; and protective environments provided for archiving and specialists’ collections. There are also specific safety considerations for public use and particularly if children’s’ services are to be provided.

Aberystwyth University provide a  website on designing libraries which provides a wide range of specific resources and information in relation to library design.


Beyond the core use of the building as a library you should also consider what other uses the building might need to support in the future.  This may include other services being delivered by your volunteers and workers, or other groups make use of the building during quiet periods. You should also consider accommodating any enterprising elements of your project such as office space or a café. As it is impossible to foresee the wide variety of services and activities that the community may wish for a robust approach is to build in sufficient element of flexible space from the outset.

Mobile shelves are becoming increasingly popular enabling library space to be moved and reconfigured for other activities outside of “library” opening times.


The Disability Discrimination Act requires anyone providing a service to the public to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to their property, business or service to anticipate the needs of people with disabilities. The word ‘reasonable’ is key. It means that the emphasis is on what you can do as an organisation once budgets and other factors are taken into account. In terms of a new build or refurbishment, your architect or surveyor will advise you on the arrangements to be made to fulfil access requirements. The earlier the discussions can take place, the easier it will be to incorporate a full range of appropriate accessibility features into the design.

As a principle accessibility does not only relate to physical access but the wider sense of how inviting and engaging the space feels to a wide range of potential building users from different segments of society. If one of your aims includes provision of educational services to ‘hard-to-reach’ groups you will also need to consider how the physical look and feel of the building supports this aspiration.


Designing-in the sustainable use of resources is a key consideration for any modern new build.  However most community branch libraries are situated in an aging building and making a pre-existing facility more environmentally sustainable is a challenge. However, saving energy is one of the simplest ways to reduce costs without the need to reduce services.

Measures that should be considered include:

  • Installing smart meters.
  • Installing movement sensors in low usage areas to control light usage.
  • Place thermostatic values on radiators.
  • Install energy efficient hand dryers.
  • Place solar film on windows to reduce the need for air conditioning.
  • Set PCs to automatically shut down when not in use.
  • Review number and efficiency of boilers.
  • Use the most efficient lighting.
  • Install water flow restrictors on taps, showers and toilets.
  • Install recycling bins.
  • Undertake staff awareness training.

The Carbon Trust advises organisations on how they can boost their business returns by cutting carbon emissions and saving energy.

Maintenance and Management

It can be easy to forget that the building isn’t being designed to be perfect on the day it opens. It is being designed to be fit-for-purpose every day of its operational use.  As such you’ll need to consider if it will be easy to manage e.g. are the spaces easy to supervise and right for your needs? Can the building operate happily with a high daily churn of volunteers e.g. is the internal climate easily controlled and changed by someone with limited knowledge of the system?  Will your design be easy and cost effective to maintain e.g. easy to clean, handling the wear and tear of daily use?


RIBA Stage Activities Client Decision-making
C) Concept • Implementation of Design Brief and preparation of additional data.
• Preparation of Concept Design including outline proposals for structural and building services systems, outline specifications and preliminary cost plan.
• Review of procurement route.
D) Design Development • Development of concept design to include structural and building services systems, updated outline specifications and cost plan.
• Completion of Project Brief.
• Application for detailed planning permission.
Approval of final design
E) Technical Design • Preparation of technical design(s) and specifications, sufficient to co-ordinate components and elements of the project and information for statutory standards and construction safety.

With an outline design and estimated costs, efforts to involve other stakeholders and to secure finances for the project can begin to move to the detailed stages. This is also the stage when decisions regarding procurement will be of interest to funders and investors.

This stage is particularly important for the client if they are to end up owning and running a building that is fit for purpose. Attention to detail of the designs at this stage is particularly important to ensure that there are no shocks when the development is complete.

Work on the Detailed Design may commence whilst the Planning Application is being considered, but this is risky and professional fees will be incurred both to produce an application and to the local planning authority to consider it. The detailed design includes specialist input from Structural and Services Engineers and suppliers of specific products or components e.g. Smart Technology, heating, lighting, stonework, etc.

From the detailed design the Quantity Surveyor produces more detailed costings which may require the client to re-consider the business plan and funding arrangements for the project.

Planning Permission

In the case of asset transfer, it is almost always a condition of the lease that any undertakings that might require planning permission must be discussed and agreed by the local authority freeholder first.

Planning permission is granted by the local authority planning department. Although they will decide whether planning permission is granted or not, it is still useful for you to demonstrate that you have the support of stakeholders, including local authority officers involved in library services, and other departments relevant to your proposal and, where appropriate, local people.

It is advisable to set up a preliminary meeting with the local planning department to talk through your proposal. This should let you know whether you are likely to be successful or not and can save you a lot of time and money.

The key to getting through the planning process unscathed is to do proper preparation, which in the majority of cases means appointing professional help. An architect will be able to draw up the required plans and advise whether a particular scheme is likely to get approval. For particularly complicated cases appointing a planning consultant might be required. The Royal Town Planning Institute has a list of its members.

Planning Aid England provides free, independent and professional planning advice to communities and individuals who cannot afford to pay professional fees.

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The Glasshouse

Link to the Glasshouse’s website. A national …

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Designing Libraries

An online resource for library planning, design & …

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Carbon Trust

A not-for-profit company providing specialist support …

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The Green Asset Guide

Guide for community organisations that are planning to …

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Community Led Design

This guide offers a brief introduction to the design …

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The Royal Town Planning Institute

The Royal Town Planning Institute has a list of its …

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Planning Aid

Planning Aid England provides free, independent and …



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