Thursday, 7 April 2022

New Headquarters for Nottingham Community Housing Association

New Headquarters & Care Village for Nottingham Community Housing Association


Landmark Planning have just secured detailed planning consent for a major mixed-use scheme in the Nottingham Green Belt at Clifton for Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA). The site is of the former Nottingham College on Farnborough Road.

The scheme comprises NCHA’s new headquarters, as well as relocating their maintenance facilities and call centre into one central location. 



Excitingly, the complex also includes a Care Village for 50 independent living apartments; 14 supported living units and 6 bungalows, as well as a café, all of which are complemented by the existing extensive sporting facilities.

The site was an amorphous mass of buildings, so the principle design challenge was to create a scheme that did not compromise the openness of the green belt, but at the same time create a distinctive space that would provide the physical form to allow the creation of a real community at the site. The solution produced an internal cross shaped street pattern with a café deliberately placed at the centre to be a meeting place and facility for all the disparate users of the site.  Breaking up of the mass of the buildings could be argued to enhance the openness of the green belt and so justify the range and scale of uses.

The local community appeared generally pleased with the approaches as the common response was of support. The scheme introduced a major employer in the immediate area with opportunities for local jobs in the future and suitable accommodation for older people. Studies by NCHA suggested that there was a high demand in the area for retirement homes but little supply. At the same time the existing sports facilities are retained, integrated into the scheme and actively managed for local people as well as the proposed users of the site.


Peter Wilkinson MD of Landmark Planning who led the planning team said: “It was a wonderfully stimulating and challenging scheme to get over the line.  I want to particularly thank Allan Fisher of NCHA; Mike Price of Pelham Architects, as well as Rob Percival & Jenny Curry of Nottingham City Planners who made all the whole project a pleasurable experience with a satisfactory conclusion.”

The headquarters offices should be open in 2023 with the rest of the scheme completed in 2024.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Leicester Work Place Parking Levy

 Many observations have been made about Leicester’s proposed WPL.

I subscribe to the well voiced concerns re social equity,  especially for the lower paid, working shifts. I am also not convinced that the proposed transport improvements will actually have sufficient benefits for travellers. On the other hand, it will certainly favour the private businesses that are bus companies, who will be subsidised to use the latest buses and cut their operating costs.

The concern I want to raise, however,  relates to the prosperity of the City centre. Much tremendous work of recent years has transformed the physical appearance and connectivity of the centre. However, as the research of the highly regarded national think tank: 'Centre for Cities' has drawn out: perhaps the biggest weakness of the Leicester centre in macro terms is the low percentage of office accommodation and jobs.  It is about the lowest of any comparable sized town or centre. And the research points out such employees are, on average, in higher paid jobs that are critical in supporting the economic health of many other sectors of a City centre’s economy from shops to coffee bars.

Leicester competes for new relocating office jobs with comparable cities and in our case also with the Junction 21 Meridian / Fosse Park / Grove Park complex. With regard to the latter this area will have no WPL charges, but stands to benefit from any improved public transport, as a consequence of Leicester funding improvements and the bus companies. That area already has the advantage of free parking. It does not take an expert to see their competitive advantage for new  jobs can only increase. I bet Everards, who relocated from the City centre twenty plus years ago and have further expansion plans are probably rubbing their hands in glee. Or would Mattioli Woods have relocated from Grove Park with a WPL in the City? 

In relation to comparable or competing cities Nottingham is the obvious example. And it has had a WPL for many years. So am I being a dinosaur? I don't think so.  

Nottingham does not have a competitor of the scale of an 'aircraft carrier’ of a Junction 21 etc sitting just outside its boundary and not subject to the charge.  It also offered the ‘wow’ factor of a tram, compared with Leicester’s proposal for electric buses; and, finally it has the benefit of integrated public transport controlled by one body. Leicester, on the other hand, still has competing firms, who all want to serve the main routes for profit reasons, but ignore less profitable opportunities. No wonder Nottingham are helping us with our proposal.

I  write as a former City Centre Manager and am passionate about the future of City centres in general and Leicester in particular. I feel compelled to raise my head above the parapet and express very serious reservations about the current proposals. The purpose of the current consultation is to generate reactions, not to drive this levy through per se. I endorse that and hope my concerns can be addressed and factored into the debate.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Empirical Evidence Strengthens Planning Arguments re Sustainability.

This blog is a summary of an absolutely excellent 25 page article in JPEL Occasional Papers 48 2021 Issue 13 by Nicholas Boys Smith. Read it if you can, as it deserves a wider audience. While a lot of what is written is intuitive; very importantly it takes a number of qualitative issues, such as green is good for you and then sets out the results of empirical studies that confirm these hypotheses in a quantitative way.


The paper has 4 key points: good design is not subjective; the housing market is over concentrated with insufficient self and community build; use design codes; and, re-use older places and buildings. 


To give two examples on good design:


Street trees are as close to a “no-regrets’ move as you will get. I have been forced to take out street trees on major planning applications, as the highway authority objected on safety and maintenance grounds. The key determinant of how fast we drive: is how safe the driver feels. Studies show that speeds are typically reduced by c. 7% where such trees are present and vehicle crashes reduced by between 5 and 20%. Moreover they improve air quality and moderate heat. Studies show people are also healthier in such environments and even drug prescriptions are reduced.


Facades Matter. Active frontages strengthen social ties, increase natural surveillance, improve sociability and increase the propensity to walk and therefore take exercise. Mixed–use land uses in one study showed that those people living in such areas used non motorised modes 12.2% of the time compared with 3.9% in single use communities. Modest semi public front gardens encourage neighbourliness. For example, one Danish study showed that in two parallel streets one with and one without front gardens 21 times more activity took place in those streets with front gardens.


The article goes on to really lambast the British planning approval system in lacking certainty, so the risks for developers up front are massive and costly. This has affected house prices, but also pushes the small builder and self-builder out of the market. Small builders only build 12% of our stock now (lower than anywhere else in Europe), yet even 30 years ago it was 40% in Britain. This lack of choice leads to too many poor homes and not enough of them.


The article goes on to review sustainability and the green agenda. The thermal efficiency of new buildings and the location of (and transport to) places has been our focus. But there are three other factors which will influence the lifelong carbon footprint of new places and so far have been insufficiently considered: the form, shape and height of buildings; longevity (resilience and flexibility of design); and, the energy required for some materials. 


So for example carbon emissions more than doubled going from 'low rise' to 'high rise’. The largest producer of waste in the U.K. is demolition and construction (24%). A new build two-bedroom house uses the equivalent of 80 tonnes of CO2; refurbishment uses 8 tonnes. Adaptability and flexibility is critically important. Materials also matter. Buildings using stone brick and wood, but not cement, fibre glass or aluminium have much lower embodied carbon.


In other words we have a long way to go in providing quality housing in beautiful, neighbourly and life enhancing places. And also a long way to go in planning buildings that least compromise our planet.