Silver lining for regenerated estate
Alexandra McMillan, CABE
8 November 2010
The rise and fall of North Solihull happened at breakneck speed. Built over six years as an overspill town for Birmingham, just 20 years later it was hit hard and fast by the industrial decline of the early 1990s.
Its premature dilapidation was serious enough to prompt one of the largest regeneration programmes in the country. Until recently, however, its ward of Smith’s Wood remained just another unsafe, sprawling housing estate. The development of Burtons Farm Park by Bellway Homes marks a turning point.
Communal space in the heart of the development is clearly valued for the opportunity it can provide for free family recreation, and many of the 65 homes have been given clear views across this generous open space. As recently as 2004, Smith’s Wood was one of the country’s most crime-ridden places to live in. Now the good natural surveillance of the central public space and streets makes it feel safe and comfortable.
The scheme achieved a Building for Life silver standard this autumn. It is well laid out: the streets have been designed around home zone principles and parking doesn’t dominate. Mature oak trees have been retained and attractively landscaped footpaths stitch the buildings together. It is close to facilities including a primary school and health centre and has been given good transport links, with bus stops well-linked by footpaths.
The different building types, height and massing create an interesting and varied townscape. This is the kind of housing that shouldn’t be difficult to replicate. Its architecture may not be cutting edge, but it creates good-quality, attractive homes where people want to live.
The tenure mix is designed to respond to the local needs, as identified by West Mercia Homes. A formulaic Radburn layout had previously dominated housing in the ward, with nothing on offer except for two and three bedroom houses and flats. The inclusion of larger family-sized homes in this new scheme is seen as central to long-term regeneration, because it enables people to stay in the area when they get better jobs and move up the property ladder.
Alexandra McMillan is an urban design and homes officer at CABE