Custom build schemes, putting communities first.

George Monbiot’s article explores the absence of safe areas of play within today’s housing estates. It’s not short of a sound bite or two to grab the attention. That being said, there is certainly substance, and ample evidence, to support the emotive language in his article.

Whilst Mr Monbiot’s assertion that children are a forgotten element within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is technically correct (children are mentioned only twice in the overarching document which frames UK planning policy), he ignores the elements of NPPF that promote healthy communities, as well as National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG) on open space, sports and recreation facilities in new development.

In practice, however, despite national policy support for such play facilities, it is questionable whether planning policy has the ‘teeth’ to ensure that developers make adequate provision within their developments. As Mr Monbiot alludes to, time and again developers and local authorities are missing opportunities to provide useable, meaningful play space, instead settling for token gestures that appear to be nothing more than a tick-box exercise to satisfy the requirements of a Local Plan.

The absence of ‘community’ in these pattern-book developments stems largely from the lack of personal investment by developers in the sites that they bring forward. A cynical observer might conclude that they are in business simply to make a profit and move on to the next opportunity, with little thought for the ‘communities’ they leave behind.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. The aspiration for the community to guide its own development that Mr Monbiot describes is not necessarily a distant utopia – it could be a distinct reality if the Government’s pilot project at Trevenson Park in Cornwall proves successful. Here Igloo Regeneration has been selected by the Homes and Communities Agency to deliver a pilot scheme of Custom Build homes as part of the creation of a new neighbourhood.

The custom build model allows the purchaser to buy a plot of serviced, ‘shovel-ready’ land, choosing a home manufacturer from a previously selected shortlist. The homeowner will be able to choose the manufacturer that most closely matches their space and sustainability aspirations, and configure the space in the way that best suits their household. At Trevenson Park, a community of like-minded people will be given the opportunity to shape their future community, working together to design elements of the scheme such as their ‘village green’ or shared open space.

The Trevenson Park pilot scheme mirrors the model pursued by many other group custom builds, such as at Ashley Vale, in Bristol. This project shows how active involvement of future residents in the construction and design of their sustainable communities and homes gives the ‘developers’ a personal investment in the ongoing future of the site once the building work is completed. It is through this early engagement that the occupants of the custom build homes at Ashley Vale were able to shape the community in which they would eventually live, including a communal garden at the centre of the development offering a safe community space for all to enjoy.

What is evident in this development approach is that involvement of future residents in the shaping of their community, makes families and their children part of a design solution, rather than the forgotten element of a tick-box exercise.

Instead of being ‘airbrushed from our town and cities’, children can be given the opportunity to design their own areas of play to suit their community’s needs. Families no longer need to depend on the efforts of the faceless developer, who is unlikely to ever set foot in the new community.

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