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CREATE GREAT PLACES

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While there is clearly a need to build more housing, what we actually build and where it is located is of equal importance if we want to create a happy, thriving community with a sense of place. For too long developers have built drab, soulless housing estates with identikit housing, crammed together in such a way that speaks only of maximising profit. And it should not be forgotten that even these unimaginative dwellings are often beyond the means of many people. There is often little consideration for the aesthetics of the homes they are creating and little concern that the residents buying these properties may also wish to have attractive green spaces, trees, walkable streets and amenities in their locality too. 

The “volume-developerisation” of our urban, suburban and semi-rural areas has done little to enhance the distinctiveness and quality of Warrington's landscape. Rather than carefully planning walkable streets and attractive communal spaces we’ve seen vast tracts of land effectively removed from the public realm to be turned into tarmac heavy culs de sac enclaves, heavily car dependent and with no social or retail infrastructure. 

 

Despite there being clear direction from the government regarding new developments by commissioning work such as the Living with Beauty report, a set of design codes, the setting up of an Office for Place and so on – there has been momentum building in this regard for some time now – there is little evidence that the developers at Warrington sites really appreciate its importance.

New housing developments often appear without having had the benefit of input from architects or masterplanners. Housing is frequently of a "one size fits all", off the shelf design - regardless of its intended surrounding area. Warrington seems to have particularly fallen victim to receiving the very bottom end of the volume developers' housing design stock. Regardless of the setting in which such development is proposed, Warrington often finds itself with the developers' most bland and generic housing, as though pulled from their discount rack and presented to Warrington's decision makers, with promises that these are the only viable options available, secure in the knowledge that ultimately all but the very worst proposals will succeed. Why these developments are waved through by our decision makers is unclear - perhaps the financial cost of challenging these monopoly developers, or perhaps it is considered that actually the proposals are perfectly acceptable, and that "acceptable" is sufficient as long as housing gets built. But we should be demanding better.  The large volume developers in the UK are capable of creating great new places to live, with attractive homes and beautiful public spaces - there are plenty of examples of striking new settlements - but this tends to be when they have collaborated with architects and masterplanners - and this does not appear to happen in Warrington.

Just some examples of modern developments in Warrrington - we have selected these because some of these developments  are still in the process of construction: Poor, uninspiring development very much remains an unaddressed, live issue.

Of equal concern is the threat these mass developments pose to our precious natural habitats: our wildlife, our woodlands, our waterways. Not only do these new developments rarely reflect the local vernacular, or contribute in an aesthetically positive way to their surroundings, they often have little regard for the fragile ecosystems that exist nearby - and in some cases, as can be seen in the Warrington Borough Council proposal Local Plan - are a direct danger to them. See our Response to the Proposed Local Plan for more information. Also take a look at our interview with Peel Hall campaigner and wildlife photographer, Ste Dodd and our blog on the Lumb Brook Valley for specific examples.

One of the issues with planned development in Warrington and elsewhere in the UK, of course, is the very limited communication and collaboration with local communities - those people with with layers of knowledge of the area and who can make valuable contributions to the discussion on how they would like their locality to look - and what needs to be protected.

A more constructive dialogue with the local community at an early stage of planning development - and then listening to their ideas and concerns - would make a significant difference to the success of proposed development. Too often our local new housing projects and developments are a failure - and yet another begins in similar vein so that one has the distinct impression that lessons are never going to be learned.

Sustainability is also a key issue of course - and this issue clearly goes hand in hand in ensuring that development does not endanger our local natural habitats. One has to be careful however, that the attraction of what the architect and masterplanner, Ben Pentreath calls "eco-bling", can lead to short termism in our built environment. A site with ground source heat pumps and solar panels connected to poor and bland housing with a likely 40 year life expectancy of circa 40 years before being pulled down and rebuilt on is probably not as sustainable as one with beautiful, solid homes and landscape that we want to preserve - and will therefore still be here in 150 years.

Again - these are current developments that impinge on and threaten the detriment of existing woodlands and natural habitats, despite apparent frameworks being in place to protect and enhance biodiversity. These houses are being developed directly adjacent the woodland at Parrs Wood, Beech Wood and Dipping Brook. There are barely a few metres between construction and precious woodland and the ecosystems they support. 

We ask for an end to bland, brick boxes packed on housing estates that could be literally anywhere. Building homes doesn't have to be this way. We also ask for an end to endless, characterless, tarmac culs de sac, with no distinguishing features, few trees, a disregard for local wildlife habitats, little to no social and retail architecture  and ask those responsible for the development of Warrington to work with great architects, masterplanners, wildlife and habitat specialists, landscape architects and most importantly of all - the local community - to preserve our valuable natural landscape and develop appropriate, beautiful homes and places that lift the spirits and make Warrington an interesting, quirky, happy and healthy place to live.

Here we take a look at some great places - whether recent or ongoing developments or places that have had years to grow organically, beautifully and carefully over the years. We look locally, nationally and internationally to show that it is possible - and desirable - to create great places. We hope that this will provide some inspiration to landowners, the local planning authorities and developers to rethink the developments.

The Wintles

Photographs displayed with the kind permission of The Living Village Trust / Bob Tomlinson

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Talk about The Wintles here

Poundbury

Beautiful,

walkablestreets

Green narrow old street of Alkmaar, Neth

While much modern housing development is car focused for practicality purposes, this often comes at a cost to the estate surroundings, where pavements and walkways are left out of site plans to make room for wider two car driveways and maximum housing numbers. The developments often plan housing around a network of culs de sac, which can feel disorientating - and because the housing and road layouts, often proximate to a number of identical roundabouts tend to have been built without a central "core" or even siting for amenities, there is the feeling that you could be living "anywhere". There is little sense of community or place. 

Create Streets, an organisation dedicated to promoting gentle density housing and a move away from complex, multi-storey buildings and endless drive to culs de sac work with various towns and communities in helping to reimagine their environment as beautiful, walkable places with a focus on community and neighbourhood.

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attractive

social 

housing

Social housing via Hastoe Housing

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traditional yet

 modern

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Facade of typical Dutch house with brick
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let's move

away

from this

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aerial view of a new housing development
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