Rock Ferry, Wirral.
Housing market renewal scheme for Rock Ferry, Wirral, proposing comprehensive redevelopment of site to provide 78 houses and 57 apartments. Designed by DK-Architects.
We acknowledge the efforts made by the project team in response to issues raised by CABE Enabling, in their letter dated 19 December 2005, which was the outcome of a stakeholder workshop for the area of Fiveways, Rock Ferry. A positive response has been made to a number of the issues raised; particularly the creation of characterful streets and spaces, with good continuity and enclosure provided by the perimeter block arrangement of houses. The evolving designs have benefited from a more considered approach to the site context and its relationship to its immediate surroundings. However, we think that the urban design could be further improved, with fresh consideration of parking and vehicular access, and the quantity, quality and use of public space. Several strong concepts have emerged within a relatively small site; we believe it would benefit from a reduction in the number of these and a refinement of the more successful features.
The largest block of houses to the west side of the site, with gardens backing onto gardens, seems to us the most successful element of this scheme. We think that the mix of on-street, in-curtilage, and courtyard parking should be re-examined, in an attempt to apply this format more widely. The parking arrangement used on the diagonal street to the south east corner of the site, seems to us a good one, and we suggest that a similar approach could be applied to the other three streets running east-west on the eastern half of the site, to achieve greater levels of on-street parking. It appears to us that a scheme of this density should be able to avoid the use of parking courts; their omission would avoid the wasteful doubling up of vehicular circulation, allow people arriving by car to enter their homes through the front door, rather than via their garden through french doors, straight into their living room.
The weakest elements of the current layout, in urban design terms, are the two incomplete blocks to the north of the site next to Bedford Road. We think that if in-curtilage and on-street parking are increased, parking courts are omitted and the blocks consequently tightened up, it should be possible to create complete blocks with enclosed gardens, or shared private open space for flats. We realise that this may make the creation of a route focused on the church impossible, but think that Church Approach may in any case be unduly deferential to what is a modest chapel.
While links are opened up to the south by the layout of the scheme, we understand that no private vehicular access is to be provided from Bedford Road. Although we understand that this reflects a desire to avoid 'rat-running' we think that the local authority and design team should reconsider this decision. This need not preclude the creation of a square to one side, or a design which subtly signals that priority is given to pedestrians over the car. Allowing cars direct access from Bedford Road would further strengthen links between the development and surrounding area, which is essential if this scheme is to achieve the desired regeneration benefits.
It is clear from the information provided that the character of the streets and spaces flowing through this development has been considered with great care. We think this scheme has the potential to create a high quality public realm, giving a particular identity to the neighbourhood. In the context of supporting this strong aspiration, we think that some simplification and editing of design ideas could improve the landscape design. A great deal of public open space is included in the scheme, which seems principally incorporated for its visual amenity value. This may not be a bad thing in an ideal world, with generous construction budgets to achieve high quality detailing, materials and planting, with similarly generous ongoing maintenance budgets from either the local authority or others. However, we would urge the developer and local authority to think carefully about the funds realistically available for public space on this site. It may be preferable to achieve a smaller amount, of open space, designed with a very clear idea about use; particularly given that most homes will benefit from a private garden. We think that this site and brief make creating an attractive environment, which works hard to accommodate cars a top priority.
The design statement sets out welcome aspirations to achieve environmental sustainability through the design of homes built using 'modern methods of construction' aiming to achieve EcoHomes very good, and using materials with low embodied energy. The consideration given to recycling facilities and rainwater and greywater collection for reuse in gardens is also positive. We would encourage the local authority to ensure that this level of sustainability is delivered through the use of conditions.
We welcome the format of the outline planning application, which provides a spatial masterplan, accompanied by a design code, giving confidence in the quality of buildings and spaces that will be achieved. If an exemplary development can be achieved on this site, it will give great impetus to the renewal of this part of Birkenhead, setting high standards for future development within the Housing Market Renewal Area. For this potential to be achieved, we believe that the urban design of the scheme will require further thought as described above.