Matthew Grist of Jubb explores the grey area between green and brownfield development, and the engineer’s role in turning viable sites into thriving communities.
While “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a common term used widely in the English language, you may not know that it’s actually the translation of a French phrase used all the way back
in Medieval times; meaning that we have been trying to manage expectations around large-scale development for more than 800 years.
However, the art of looking back provides greater understanding along with the opportunity to move forward with insight, information and impetus; elements that will be vital in order to deliver on the Government’s new homes pledge.
The current housing reality is hampering our competitiveness as a nation and, put simply, both greenfield and brownfield developments must not only be allowed, but actively encouraged to progress in order to respond to the UK’s supply, demand, quality and affordability issues.
Rather than the tendency to pit urban and rural against each other, they need to be collectively embraced in order to drive economic growth. And, to me, the foundations of strengthening the country’s position requires a reframing of the ‘levelling up’ discussion.
As highlighted by the ‘Centre for Cities,’ the notion that investment should be ploughed into making places equal simply doesn’t stack up. It could put us at risk of being a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none,’ when the UK needs to identify and invest in specific areas of strategic significance in order to strengthen its position.
Yes, there are always red tape hurdles to overcome and yes, there are often numerous and very diverse stakeholders to please, but by looking at various scenario plans and work-a-rounds, collective and collaborative decisions can be made for the good of the end users.
Working with a strategic partner that has knowledge and experience across multiple disciplines, such as ground engineering, transport, civils and structural work, partners can achieve a holistic approach, rather than ones that focus on quantity rather than quality.
Here we look at two examples in practice where we provided strategic input. With an aim to provide smart, tailor-made solutions, these case studies, very different in their nature and requirements, deliver forward-planned solutions to meet immediate, emerging and future needs.
GREENFIELD & GOING FOR GROWTH
Westley Green is a proposed new community situated along the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor – an area billed as ‘the home to the future of food, clean energy, medicine and mobility’. Set to create around 8,500 homes and drive down local road usage by 84%, what makes this scheme different is its potential to be truly self-sufficient.
Set in a location of strategic importance, the Westley Green site will support further growth within the Cambridge Norwich Tech corridor. This substantial landholding can not only house a number of uses – residential, community, employment and education – but also has the potential to accommodate necessary utilities; generating its own power, dealing with its own waste and having its own sewer system.
And this has all been achieved by taking a transport strategy-led approach; reviewing a mix of transport modes and strategies that keep the external movement of people to a minimum.
Compared to a traditional housing development, Jubb had to undertake more detailed analysis, taking into account demographics and increased home working along with other behavioural changes. For example, current plans include extending the use of electric buses which could become driverless vehicles in due course.
Due to the likelihood the scheme won’t be totally complete until 2050, what’s remained at the centre of the proposed development is a balance in order to deliver a community with just enough employment alongside the right amount of housing.
BRINGING BROWNFIELD BACK TO LIFE
Heralded as an iconic scheme which forms a key strand of Somerset West & Taunton’s Economic Strategy 2021-24, Firepool in Taunton (image, above) has played host to the transformation of a former cattle market into a site ripe for development.
Vacant since 2008, it was a genuine ‘blot on the landscape.’ Situated in a prime position, on the river front and next to the train station, its underutilisation has been a scourge on Somerset’s most significant growth hub for some time.
Acting as a ‘gateway’ to the town and an extension of the centre, the Firepool project is an ambitious low car use scheme which is set to complement Taunton’s wider ‘Garden Town Vision.’ Aimed to provide a sustainable addition to the town, this open, low-rise residential development has been carefully integrated with the public realm to add value rather than volume.
COLLABORATION IS KEY
While macro-economic issues will be well out of our hands, as a strategic partner what we can take control of is how we work together in order to bring truly sustainable schemes forward. And successful delivery can only be enabled if we adopt a paradigm shift from financials to individuals. People remain at the heart of a community and are the figures we should all be focusing on; not the number of units or rental yield targets.
Public realm or site infrastructure can often be overlooked as important income assets within land development, but the value it provides is priceless. And, with both green and brownfield
land offering both the scope and scale required to deliver community-minded schemes, it’s simply imperative they be unlocked in order to deliver the ‘future-proofed’ communities this country desperately needs.
Supplying demand before there’s even a need is no mean feat, but the viability of a site can only truly be measured by the value it will provide to occupiers. And value isn’t in the form of revenue. While income is of course a basic need, it’s not the be all and end all. There are undoubtedly times when profits have taken precedence over people, but you can’t have one without the other and the individuals will provide requisite income levels if we get the key elements of a development right.
BUILDING A BETTER FUTURE
Strategic land opportunities will only deliver success if the correct strategy is applied. Regeneration is about improving on what once existed and the mix of uses need to be fit for both current and future needs.
As an industry we need to learn from past successes, especially those of our counterparts, so that we can move forward positively to deliver developments that achieve their productivity potential.
Whether investment in a particular area supports a high volume of specialist products, innovative tech and medical advancements – or nurtures a number of future Olympic superstars – we need to embrace our differences and utilise them in order to build a better future.
Matthew Grist is a director at Jubb Consulting Engineers