Stewardship: A long term investment in new communities

Roger File | Blenheim Strategic Partners
22nd June 2022
Roger File 123

A new form of development is emerging: one which addresses the housing crisis but which takes account of other requirements including the need to address climate change and the need for healthy, functional communities.

In this model, which is being embraced by some of the most enlightened landowners, master planners and developers throughout the country, the landowner has a central role in the creation of a new community and the specific principles which guide its development are established early. They are adhered to throughout, to the benefit of all involved.

This long-term approach necessitates some significant changes to the previous development model. From the legal structures that define the partnership model and each party’s on-ongoing commitment; to a funding structure which is best described as patient capital - one in which land or capital is invested long term, with objectives which go beyond the purely financial. The yields of the investment include not only profit (which invariably grows throughout the development process) but active involvement from conception to completion and pride in the outcome.

Masterplanning starts with the development team but involves collaboration with a multitude of stakeholders and depends upon a successful collaboration. It responds well to the longer-term approach that is gradually evolving through planning policy – from thirty-year vision documents in Local Plans to the requirement to conserve biodiversity sites for decades.

The success of such schemes is to be viewed through a social and environmental lens. Priorities are design and placemaking, the essence of which is communicated in design codes put in place in collaboration with stakeholders.

Blenheim Strategic Partners defines this long-term commitment to its communities as stewardship. The dictionary definition of stewardship, ‘The careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care’, describes our aspirations perfectly. Just the Estate is responsible for the care of Blenheim Palace, a UNSECO World Heritage Site, the owners wish to invest in conservation areas of the future, in the form of new communities.

The concept of stewardship, which has its history in enlightened building projects of the 19th century such as Bournville, Port Sunlight and Ebenezer Howard’s garden city principles, is explored in its modern context in Knight Frank’s 2020 report Cost and Value, published in relation to the work of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

The report describes Blenheim Estate Homes’ Park View community as a ‘kite mark for stewardship’, noting its ‘design standards of the highest quality’ which, ‘complement and enhance the centuries-old legacy of the Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site’. The case study notes the ‘genuine vested interest in the strength of both the local community and the local economy,’ specifically in relation to affordable housing provision, local employment schemes and the early use of Design Codes to preserve quality.

Park View demonstrates stewardship on many levels - from the enduring partnership between Blenheim Estate, Pye Homes and Adam Architecture to the creation of a Design and Community Code with the appropriate covenants, codes and restrictions. Social infrastructure is of prime importance: the new community was designed to blend seamlessly with its neighbours and the combination of house types and tenures was carefully planned. Half are affordable homes, some of which are rented at a 40% discount as opposed to the required 20%. Responsibly resourced and durable local materials were prioritised and the community benefits from generous green spaces, footpaths and cycle paths connecting to the Blenheim Estate, and areas of natural biodiversity.

The stewardship approach is not unique to Blenheim Estate. It has been embraced by other landed estates including the Duchy of Cornwall at Poundbury and Nansledan, and the Thistlethwayte family at Welborne.

We are already working with landowners and developers throughout the country in recreating this successful approach. Our unique credentials – which include the largest rural Passivhaus scheme at Hill Rise and an award-winning model for delivering affordable housing – are something that we hope will inspire new communities throughout the country.

Conservation areas of the future can only succeed through effective stewardship and thrive on the wide-ranging benefits that stewardship brings - in the form of community cohesion, longevity in design and construction, and sustainable living - because successful communities are so much more than bricks and mortar.

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