Garden villages: the ultimate sustainable community? 

Johnny Clayton, head of masterplanning at Carter Jonas explores the concept of the 15-minute neighbourhood.

Related topics:  Planning,  Development,  Garden Villages
Johnny Clayton | Carter Jonas
19th June 2024
Rural Development Essex 835
"Only through the creation of substantial new communities can the country deliver the requisite number of new homes. And – politicians, note – only new communities can achieve multi-levelled, genuine sustainability"
- Johnny Clayton - Carter Jonas

Sustainability is inevitably high on every property developer’s agenda, with each seeking to demonstrate the sustainable characteristics of its own model of development as part of the planning consent process. Today, perhaps, it is more topical than ever, with the Government recently citing brownfield sentiment as the most sustainable option.

Undoubtedly there are sustainable features present in brownfield development – not least its potential to rejuvenate deprived areas and support ailing urban centres.

But, as the media response to February’s announcement has demonstrated very clearly, the number of homes deliverable on brownfield sites is minimal in the context of the housing crisis.

Only through the creation of substantial new communities can the country deliver the requisite number of new homes. And – politicians, note – only new communities can achieve multi-levelled, genuine sustainability.

A Case Study – White Notley Garden Village

This is demonstrated in White Notley Garden Village, a new settlement proposed by Barratt David Wilson Homes in Braintree, which I believe is an exemplar sustainable community.

The 78-hectare site comprises largely of arable farmland but its sustainability potential is almost unparalleled.

The masterplan, created by Carter Jonas, proposes a new mixed use village and a range of community facilities including a primary school, pre-school/early years centre, secondary school, health centre (with pharmacy and dispensary), sports hub (with an all-weather pitch, tennis courts and a pavilion with changing facilities), convenience store, local shops and work hub.

It would provide high-quality residential units of a variety of tenures, creating approximately 1,320 homes for over 3,300 people, within an attractive landscaped setting which prioritises health and wellbeing alongside pioneering environmental features.

What differentiates the scheme?

What differentiates the scheme and enables it to rank so highly in terms of sustainability is the presence of White Notley station. Currently, the country’s most under-used railway station, White Notley serves Cressing and Braintree to the north and Witham to the south, along with direct trains to London Liverpool Street.

In addition to enabling many hundred car-free journeys each day for the residents of White Notley Garden Village (at no more than a ten-minute walk or three-minute cycle ride), the station will open up a sustainable form of travel to the residents of the neighbouring villages too.

The 15-minute neighbourhood concept is a popular construct for sustainable living – based on the idea that all residents live within 15 minutes of key services and facilities. But at White Notley Garden Village, the concept is relevant not only in the case of the new residents but is extended to surrounding villages: nearby existing residents who currently drive to Braintree or Witham for schools, doctors' surgeries and shops will also benefit from these facilities being provided within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride.

With the site conveniently positioned in the centre of five villages (Black Notley, Hawbush Green, Cressing, Silver End and the original White Notley) a combined population of 9,700 residents will benefit from the new facilities, while already established facilities such as Black Notley’s community and nursery facilities, and the shop and pub at Silver End will be within reach of those who previously had less direct access.

Active travel is key to a successful 15-minute neighbourhood and is a high priority in the proposals. The site has a number of public rights of way running both across it and along its borders. A series of footpaths and bridleways link Cressing to the north-east and Black Notley to the west, and the Essex Way runs north-south, linking Epping to the south-west and Harlow to the north-east – and many more are set to be added.

Our masterplan has taken a proactive approach to active travel: rather than banning the car, it simply makes the alternatives more attractive. The originally proposed ‘vehicle loop’ has been replaced with a network of walking and cycle paths – offering both a scenic route and a more direct ‘desire lines’. Cycle security and the charging of electric bikes need not concern the residents of the new community, who can benefit from charging stations at the community hub and a secure cycle compound at the station.

To appeal to those walking and cycling, roads will feature swales, landscaping and separate cycle paths in keeping with the popular ‘healthy streets’ concept.

The new community will be an exemplar in terms of energy efficiency, with 20% of electrical energy generated by renewable sources on site. Barratt David Wilson Homes routinely delivers a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain on all new communities and White Notley Garden Village will be no exception, with biodiversity enhanced through the implementation of green corridors, new woodland and hedgerow planting, areas of managed grassland and new wetland habitats. Barratt’s existing partnership with the RSPB is likely to have a role here too, featuring initiatives such as swift bricks and wildlife-friendly gardens.

Over forty percent of the new garden village will be publicly accessible parkland and all residents will have immediate access to these spaces which include a Central Park, five kilometres of walking trails which connect onto the wider public footpath network, play areas within three minutes of every home, and a new community sports hub.

The priority given to sustainability at White Notley Garden Village is not just social and environmental, but economic too. A significant number of new jobs would be created within the proposed village including jobs for teachers, doctors and medical staff, those who work in the retail and hospitality sectors, care workers, new business startups and SMEs, along with the remote workers utilising the work hub.

The fact that White Notley Garden Village, when complete, will be an exemplary sustainable community raises the question, why are all new developments not created with similar objectives? It certainly exposes the weaknesses of smaller residential-only schemes, be they brownfield or edge-of-settlement.

The answer is, partially, economies of scale. The size of this scheme has enabled us to deliver facilities that would have been impossible on a smaller scale: every additional residential street enables us to deliver an amenity or facility which enhances the community and its sustainable credentials.

Secondly, no new community is a completely blank canvas but the larger and emptier the site, the greater scope there is for creativity and innovation. At White Notley we benefitted from the opportunity to connect the existing village facilities and utilise a functioning railway station, but also the opportunity of having a substantial site on which to fulfil Barratt David Wilson’s objectives. As such White Notley Garden Village has huge potential - I look forward to walking its green streets and enjoying its vibrant sense of community.

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