Email from BPC to MJ Homes
Dear Mr Hartnett
Thank you to you and your team for attending council meetings to discuss your proposals for Hillside Nurseries. As you know, we welcome this dialogue as the scheme develops and the presentation, the drawings and the schedule of accommodation all help to give a clearer idea of the direction of the scheme.
We very much hope we can continue the conversation in order to encourage you to offer a scheme which we would be able to support. To that point, however, we feel there is more work to be done both in terms of the design and the effect of the amount of accommodation you are seeking to build.
Below are the comments from the Council on your latest proposals. We hope you find them helpful and look forward to your response. We also look forward to your thoughts on how your proposals will have an effect beyond the site boundary. What, for example, are your thoughts about a crossing linking your site with the ‘Coffin Trail’ to the centre of the village? Have you thought about the impact of a new group of young children on the capacity of the local school? How will parking be restricted to within your site boundary? And what are your thoughts about the landscape between the eastern boundary of the site and the A29?
We very much appreciate the consultation you are undertaking with your neighbours and, to help us, it would be interesting to know who you have talked to and what the responses have been.
We look forward to your thoughts about how the scheme will develop and to our questions.
With kind regards
Hillside: A review of the pre-application proposal
Comments on the presentation to the on-line BPC meeting 15th March 2021 at 6.30pm
This was the third meeting in a pre-application process. In previous meetings, BPC have expressed concerns about both the content and the character of the proposals. BPC have suggested that connections – in every respect – should be made to the main part of the village. It advised that, for the design to be a successful and welcome addition to the village, the first task is to understand the village, its evolution, character, hierarchy, typology and its needs.
Given that Hillside is a site with an employment use, BPC accepts that development in some form is likely and therefore welcomes the opportunity to positively engage with the owners and their representatives to ensure a scheme comes forward that meets the aspirations of both the owners and the village. This should be a worthwhile development that should sit well in its context and one that is not based on the perception of the A29 as a barrier to turn a back to, that provides a mix of accommodation which benefits the future of the village and that should provide a design that understood and positively responded to the unique character of Bury.
In preparation for the meeting, BPC was issued earlier in the day with two drawings – a site plan and 4 elevational site sections (printable at A4) and a schedule of accommodation. The site plan was clear and easy to read, the site sections less so because of the size of the drawing and the lack of cross references to the plan. This information was supported by a verbal description of the scheme at the evening BPC meeting, but no further visual information was made available. The comments therefore relate only to the information made available by these two drawings and the schedule.
2. Content: The uses and likely occupants
Though there is agreement to the principle that a mix of workspaces, houses for sale and affordable dwellings should provide an appropriate basis for the development, BPC does have concerns in relation to definition and to detail.
The workspace units should be better defined with specific use classes as the use of the words ‘warehouse’ and ‘industrial’ caused some concern. If, as discussed, there are limitations proposed within the use classes bands, it would be useful to know how these restrictions will be imposed – by covenant or other legal agreement – so they could form a condition to any approval that might be granted. It would also be useful to what form of tenure is proposed for the business units and how they would be offered, in the first instance at least, to local people.
BPC looks forward to seeing the detailed plans for the houses and flats. There is particular interest in two aspects. First is the plan details for the units proposed as live/work which might have space for a number of employees. How will the arrangement of home and office work? And how will parking be provided if all the staff drive to work? And second, there was some disappointment with what has been termed the ‘affordable’ units (though they may be policy compliant) being simply market units discounted to 80% of their market value rather than designed and managed in partnership with a housing provider to meet the needs of local people unable to afford these market costs.
3. Density: Site capacity and the amount of proposed development
The impression gained from the site plan is of a layout dominated by its road pattern. The area of the site taken up by road surface and the associated parking provision for over 50 cars seems at odds with such a rural context. Consequently, it is hard not to form the view that too much accommodation is proposed and that a site area of less than 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) cannot both support this level of density and contribute to the character of the village. If the proposal seems too urban, it raises the concern that either the design has not yet managed the density or that the proposed density is too great. It would be useful to understand how the density of the proposal in terms of built footprint, extent of road coverage and parking provision compared with the main part of the village.
The character of the village is only in part defined by how buildings look. Their elevations, the choice of the materials and the details are important, but proposals based on these factors alone rarely manage to produce the character it is hoped to achieve. Character is based on the structure of a place and with Bury, it is its street pattern and topography that makes it unique. This underlying structure provides the context for how one building relates to the next and how a group of buildings form a space. Added to this is the almost serendipitous juxtaposition of walls, fences, hedges and gates that both shape the space and tell the story of what is public and what is private. How buildings look is a significant part of the making of a place but without an idea of how it is structured and why that is important, the character will be harder to assemble and sustain.
It follows that the greater the density of a development, the harder it will be to balance these subtle relationships and the harder it will be to balance the amount of hard road surface to the built form. If the spaces between buildings seem to be filled with cars, that will dominate the character making the task of placemaking so much more difficult. These proposals are dominated by a quantity of cars (some in tandem parking) and by an extent hard surfaces that makes placemaking extremely difficult. It is understandable, therefore, that emphasis quickly passes to elevations and detail but, without a real understanding of the structure that underpins the making of these new places, these elevational references will seem little more than a surface ‘copy-pasting’ exercise.
5. Moving forward
BPC very much welcomes the dialogue with the development team and appreciates the initial direction of a mixed-use project which included employment use and affordable housing. It seeks clarity on the exact nature of the uses, and it seeks a proposal that is more based on the spatial structure and sense of place that makes up the character of the village so that what emerges is not simply the highways consequence of a scheme that may be too dense. Elevations are important and will no doubt follow but they must be preceded by a real understanding of the village so that a scheme worthy of both the village and its place in the South Downs National Park can emerge. To that end, BPC hope that a scheme might emerge that is perhaps less dense but certainly with fewer visible cars and, notwithstanding the existing employment use, that the commercial units be reconsidered with greater emphasis on home-work units.