Following the events of Covid-19 in 2020 it is more evident than ever that access to quality open space, for health and wellbeing and the ability to meet and socialise in places that are attractive and allows for comfortable, safe interaction with others will be essential in the places we design and create.
Within our role as ‘ design lead’ our team of Town Planners, Masterplanners, Architects, Landscape Architects and Graphic Communication experts have for some time now, been striving to deliver just such an environment within a major urban extension to the north of Houghton Regis. Working for Land Improvement Holdings and their partners, collectively known as HRMC, we have been guiding proposals for Linmere since early 2010’s.
Linmere is an evolving, adaptable neighbourhood with a strong focus on social value, health, and wellbeing. A landscape-led masterplan, over 30% of the overall site area (over 78ha) is being given over to open spaces for sports, biodiversity enhancement, leisure, amenity, and recreation. Located on Green Belt land, delivering a development which embraces open space while also realising up to 5,150 new homes, up to 130,000 sqm of employment floorspace, and up to 30,000 sqm of retail and leisure floorspace has been paramount to success.
Here we take a look at some features within the Linmere masterplan, that were put in place to ensure that it offered social value and created a healthy and sustainable community for people to live, work and play within, both immediately and in the future.
Health and Wellbeing via a ‘15 minute city’ principle
A fundamental principle for the masterplan design concept is the creation of walkable neighbourhoods. These are anchored by neighbourhood places created by the co-location of community, social and recreational uses, which provide a heart for the community and focus for social interaction and exchange.
This principle is reflective of current thinking on the ‘15 minute city’ which aims to reconnect residents with their local area, enabling everyone to have easy access to meet many of their daily needs, within a short walk or cycle ride from their homes.
The concept of the ‘15 minute city’ has been enhanced by prioritising and designing green and grey infrastructure to promote attractive pedestrian routes and cycle connectivity across the development. Opening routes to the local schools and open space, neighbourhood hubs and wider key infrastructure such as the adjacent leisure and education campus being delivered at Kingsland Campus and the national cycle route 6, which links to Leagrave Railway Station. Widened pavements and verdant tree-lined streets, as well as restricted vehicular access to the neighbourhood hubs further reinforces this ambition to deliver green connectivity and promote active travel wherever possible.
Overlaid onto the connectivity network, is a series of public spaces designed to encourage and facilitate activity and opportunities to exercise and therefore support health and wellbeing. Working with Central Bedfordshire Council, we have driven an ambition way beyond their traditional ‘6 acre’ standard for open space provision, to create dynamic places and beautifully designed open spaces that offer the widest range of activities for all users; from mothers with young toddlers, teenagers to the elderly or less able.
WHEN CREATING ANY NEW COMMUNITY, WE SHOULD BE ENSURING THEY ARE HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE. IT HAS BEEN A PLEASURE COORDINATING THE TEAM AND LEADING ON THE DESIGN PROCESS THROUGHOUT THIS PROJECT. LINMERE HAS PROVIDED MANY CHALLENGES, PARTICULARLY AROUND CONSULTATION, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY IT PROVIDED AN EXCITING OPPORTUNITY TO INCORPORATE DESIGN PRINCIPLES THAT TRULY ENHANCE HEALTHY PLACEMAKING AND IN TURN IMPROVE LIVEABILITY NOW AND IN TIMES TO COME AS THE COMMUNITY GROWS OVER TIME
Vaughan Anderson, Urban Design Director
An evolving, adaptable neighbourhood
The events of 2020 have certainly further influenced our thinking on how the places and homes we design and build are sufficiently robust and adaptable to change. Be this in economic conditions, lifestyle habits or working patterns. New settlements like Linmere are created over a period of 10-15years. They are unlikely to have the critical mass to sufficiently support local shops, eating establishments, and other local services on day one, but it will be the establishment and emergence of these local facilities that will significantly contribute to the sense of place and community as the place grows.
Ensuring the proposals support this is key and has been a key driver for the new community hub created on the edge of Linmere Park for example. This striking architectural composition lies at an important arrival point for the new community and consists of a distinctive collection of buildings modelled on a traditional ’Farmstead’. Transforming the original ambition for a site sales office, this new facility expands and diversifies the opportunity for visitors and the local community to build a community, from every perspective. The Farmstead provides space for a café, a community hall and site offices which will eventually become co-working space above a couple of retail units at ground floor. It is a destination for the community and a place that will serve as a meeting, resting and stopping place, from which couples, individuals and families can embark on a variety of active pursuits and adventures into the wider countryside.
To allow for wider ‘evolution’ in the future at Linmere, the team have written design codes that actively encourage creative and innovative design for development parcels and buildings within the neighbourhood hearts, while embedding flexibility through construction approaches. One such simple example of this is the adaptable ground floors, where taller floor to floor heights can accommodate a variety of uses over time. This is not a new idea, but one that has certainly fallen by the wayside in the development of recent new settlements and urban extensions. The team are continuing to collaborate with the client to develop community programmes for public art and design of public spaces to empower and engage future residents to shape their community and to root them in their neighbourhood and connect them to their neighbours.
To maintain these ambitions through subsequent phases of the development process, the team have been retained by the client to work with the selected housebuilder teams and support the realisation of respective designs and subsequent reserve matters applications that are in keeping with ‘spirit’ of the design code.
Embedding a community
From the outset of our commission, our discussions with the local community identified a passionate wish that Linmere must not feel disassociated or separated from the surrounding communities. Knitting the new community into the existing community has therefore been at the heart of the masterplan, but is demonstrated most evidently through the development of a single ‘shared education campus’, where we have amalgamated a new primary school with the existing Thornhill Primary school – to create a literal ‘bridge’ between Linmere and Parkside. This approach has also been applied to the second Primary School location which abuts a future development site between Linmere and Parkside. This simple, yet effective spatial planning strategy will provide both the existing and new community with a strong ‘seed’ for their interrelationship and enable these communities to grow and develop together in the future.
Ongoing engagement with the community is key and another way we are seeking to drive this is through the development of community programmes for public art and design of public spaces, alongside the client. This programme will look to empower and engage existing and future residents in the shaping of their community, to drive ownership and passion while also looking to connect them to their neighbours.
For more on the technical facts, check out our Linmere project page.
Posted with the following keywords:
Health, New Communities, Education, Local Plan, Infrastructure