Over 100 new apartments are in the works in the Surrey town of Oxted, offering countryside living within commuting distance of the capital. Alison Dowsett, managing director of St William Homes, explains how the team utilised a design concept that was “led by the landscape.” Jack Wooler reports.
A total of 111 one, two and three bedroom apartments and penthouses are in the works in the foothills of the North Downs.
Based in the leafy town of Oxted, Surrey, the project offers private landscaped communal gardens and countryside surroundings within easy reach of the capital. Project leaders St William have used this nature-filled location to inform its design, reflecting the company’s ‘nature first’ ideals.
The homes placed within this landscape are spread across three new buildings, accessed from a private road, which have revitalised a brownfield site into a desirable new location.
In 2014, developer Berkeley Group and National Grid – one of the largest private owners of urban brownfield sites in the UK – formed a partnership to “expedite the delivery of homes in attractive town centre locations.”
Named St William Homes, the JV aims to “optimise the understanding of the complex nature of available land,” while promoting “values and principles of successful placemaking.”
Alison Dowsett, managing director of St William Homes, explained further: “Together, we are unlocking previously inaccessible, redundant and complex brownfield gasworks sites.
“Our development proposals consistently focus on delivering visually appealing, landscape-led schemes that regenerate brownfield sites in urban areas, reenergising them for the benefit of the wider community, while providing a host of new homes in prime locations.”
It was through this partnership, and its passion for regeneration and nature, that the new project was formed – named Courtyard Gardens.
Working very closely with St William, planning architect Michael Taylor was appointed to create the masterplan for the project, which formed the basis of the project as it stands today.
After considering “many iterations of the design,” the current scheme of 111 apartments was agreed, displaying traditional facing brick facades alongside reconstituted stonework porticos and detailing – the building will also boast “entrance pillars, sliding sash windows and ornate ironwork across the scheme,” Alison added.
The scheme gained planning approval in July 2018, and demolition of a 30 metre high gasholder where the homes now reside commenced on 2 January 2019.
One of several gasholder sites that St William has obtained planing permission to develop on, Courtyard Gardens’ location in the centre of Oxted heavily influenced the design process.
Described by Alison as a “quintessentially English town, full of character and charm,” Oxted’s residents were reportedly very welcoming of the project – not just because of the demolition of the disused gasholders, but also because the redevelopment is set to generate £1.53m in Community Infrastructure Levy contributions, and an estimated £600k in New Homes Bonuses.
When she first arrived on the site, one of the early draws was its “unique” place between the nearby Oxted Railway Station and Station Road East, “making it well suited logistically for residential homes – especially as it will reduce the need for development on the green belt in the area.”
Unlike its attractive location however, the brownfield site offered many challenges to the JV – the main one being the 100 metre long site’s level difference of 13 metres from north to south.
Allison explained further: “The steep nature of the site was an exciting challenge during the design phase, as we worked to ensure easily accessible entry to all three buildings and to the communal gardens for all residences at the scheme.”
When approaching the new project, residents and visitors will pass access-controlled entrance gates, set behind the main high street. Residents will each be provided with entry fobs to allow them secure access here, as well as into each of the buildings.
The project’s varied 111 homes are spread across the three, five-storey apartment blocks. All of the buildings are centred around the titular courtyard garden – which cleverly masks the heavily sloping nature of the site, creating engaging routes around it.
Each of these blocks has been constructed using facing bricks, with PVCu double glazed windows and external doors. The facades have reconstituted stone band courses at various locations and matching copings, with door and window heads all featuring brick arches. Entrances to two of the buildings will include reconstructed stone porticos, and the buildings’ three cantilevered balconies feature traditional ironwork balustrading.
Mixed evenly among these blocks, all of the apartments types offer a balcony or terrace, providing views of either the courtyard or the North Downs. The penthouses in particular do well here – being located on the fifth floor of each building; Alison said they will boast “stunning views across the surrounding countryside.”
As well as the “social and sustainable” communal gardens that Alison said will provide “colour all year round,” the residents will benefit from gated parking, and a private, secure entrance and lobby in all three of the buildings.
Heading inside the homes – which can be done with dedicated lift access – the apartments have all been designed and finished to the same high standards as the exterior.
Throughout the communal entrances, hallways and staircases, for example, these spaces have all been “beautifully designed and finished with meticulous attention to detail.”
An example from the kitchens is the soft-close cabinetry on show – which is available to residents in a choice of four colour palettes – combined with integrated appliances to enable what the developers have described as “relaxed, modern living and entertaining.”
Storage is again a prominent feature in the bedrooms, with built-in wardrobes complementing the material and colour palettes, as well as in the bathrooms, which offer space-saving storage.
Exploring the development’s ecological credentials, Alison explained that the partnership “aims to make all its developments as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible.”
The JV intends to put “as much care and planning” into the external areas as it does to the design and quality of its buildings and interiors, with the hopes that the new project will impress potential residents with social and sustainable gardens.
To action this at Courtyard Gardens, an environmental study was carried out on the site prior to the planning approval. During this process, baggers were identified as using the site for foraging purposes: “As part of the ecological mitigation measures, we have maintained access to the site for the nearby badgers, and aim to plant fruit trees in the lower garden area to the south of the scheme – this will not only help to increase local biodiversity and contribute to the local flora and fauna but will also provide a food source or the badgers.”
In terms of energy use, the project has reportedly been designed to use as little energy as necessary. “To support this,” explains Alison, “we have built in a photo-voltaic array on each roof to power communal area lighting and sockets, to further reduce the importation of electricity from the grid.”
Additionally, the development’s potable water is housed in one large tank, allowing the water to be fed around the buildings via hidden water mains, with each apartment containing its own water meter to allow residents to check their water usage.
A strong reception
According to Alison, Courtyard Gardens has already been “particularly well-received” by prospective buyers.
She commented: “Purchasers have been drawn to the prime location – just off the high street and less than five minute’s walk to the station with quick and direction stations into London (London Bridge being 33 minutes by train.)
“The high street itself has also been a reason buyers are attracted to the scheme. The development’s location benefits from access to a wide array of shops and amenities right outside the front entrance.”
Whatever draws buyers in – whether the proximity to the town centre, the capital, or simply its nature focussed design – St Williams will have succeeded in transforming an old industrial site into a place to call home.