Proposal for an extension to the west of Shinfield village of 1,200 new homes, with other retail, education, public and green space facilities. Designed by Barton Willmore.
11 October 2010
Planning reference: O/2010/1432, F/2010/1428, F/2010/1434
We support the principle of extending Shinfield Village to provide new housing and community facilities. We also support the strategic work that conceptualises the proposed development in the context of its wider surroundings. The concept of maintaining the separate identity of Shinfield, Three Mile Cross and Spencers Wood with the help of large greenways and open space is positive. However, there are three main areas of the masterpan which we feel need further work: the organising framework of routes and spaces, the integration of the new development with the village of Shinfield, and the overall character of the development. The key principles relating to each should be clearly evident in the masterplan drawings so they can form a strong framework to guide reserved matters applications. We are concerned that a standard design approach has dominated the masterplan process which, in turn, has created a proposal that does not feel as if it will enhance the specific characteristics of this place. Therefore, we are unable to give the current planning application our support in its current form.
While there may be a logic to each of the design principles shown (such as space typology, urban form and density), we are not convinced that they yet add up to a good quality, identifiable place to live. In order to resolve this we think the following three aspects of the masterplan should be revisited:
- The organising framework of routes and spaces across the masterplan;
- The integration of the new development with the village of Shinfield; and
- The overall character and identity of the place being created.
The design team’s analysis of the site and its context is clear and convincing. However, whilst existing features such as historic footpaths can play an important role in tying a development to its context, the degree to which these should inform the primary structure of routes and spaces within a masterplan needs to be carefully scrutinised. For example, we understand the importance of retaining the footpath that runs north-south across the site but we are not convinced that turning it into a major avenue is necessarily the best approach. It converts a modest pedestrian link into a key structuring element of the masterplan which gives it more prominence than it would seem to merit. The proposal to turn it into the major vehicular artery running through the site would seem to run counter to the intention to preserve the green nature of this route, as defined by the hedgerow that runs alongside it. Questions such as how the Avenue relates to the position and function of the existing local centre and how it connects three-dimensionally with other routes and spaces proposed also need to be answered.
We acknowledge the suggestion that the character and scale of spaces proposed reflect those found in Shinfield but more thought is required about how these spaces will function as a focus for community life and how they will relate to the existing spaces in Shinfield. A case in point is the triangular village green proposed at the centre of the development which will be framed by housing rather than active community uses, as is the case on School Green. This is further confused by the material submitted, which discounts it as an important place within the development in one plan and celebrates it as a key landmark location in another.
Integration with Shinfield
We recognise the challenge faced by the design team in connecting this new settlement with the existing village, particularly where more recent development to the north turns it back to the rural edge. There is clear evidence of thought about how the masterplan might mend these seams between existing and new development. For example, we think the proposal to augment existing local facilities at School Green by proposing a new local centre alongside the existing one could work in principle. However, we think more clarity is required about the relationship between the existing and proposed local centres and the impact the development could have on the vitality and viability of the services and facilities that currently exist. To this end, defining the intended role, function and character of the village square, particularly in the context of the development as a whole, will be critical. However, this was neither evident from the presentation, where the graphic illustrations obscured important components of the masterplan, or from the design and access statement provided. The application should demonstrate that the design principles have been tested three-dimensionally to explore the character of this centre and help define how these principles might be translated through subsequent stages of design. In judging the current proposals, the local authority should also consider how successfully a large surface car park and supermarket will integrate in urban design terms into this existing community hub.
Character and identity
Whilst appreciating the level of technical analysis that the design team has undertaken, we feel the proposals presented were short on design vision. They did not give a real feel for the nature of the new settlement and whether the masterplan proposes a new town, village or suburb.
We recognise that a significant proportion of the development will be to a density of approximately 30 dwellings per hectare. It has not been demonstrated clearly how interest, variety and character will be introduced into the development to avoid neighbourhoods of identical housing making a very uniform place. It is important at this outline stage of the planning process that the design principles promote a settlement with distinctive character. We recommend that the design team further examine the design principles proposed, taking the principle of an avenue, for example, and testing it against topography, site context and parameters such as building heights and street widths, to assess its impact on and contribution to the character of the development overall. Once it can be demonstrated that the parameters of the masterplan add up to a convincing whole, then the finer details of building detail, landscape treatment and materials can be explored.
The proposed school
We have some concerns that the new primary school is proposed on the outskirts of the development and therefore misses the opportunity to embed the school within the development and help create a strong community focus. The design team should be mindful of the community benefit it could bring if it were more closely linked to the local centre. While we heard in the presentation that the school would be embedded within the community when subsequent developments come forward, we could see no evidence of this in the presentation. The local authority should consider whether a school in this location is well located to serve children living on the western edge of High Copse Common.
Traffic and parking
We understand the logic for separating private vehicle movement from public transport routes but have concerns that this could dilute activity where it is most needed. For example, the Avenue character zone and the local centre could well benefit from cars as well as buses if managed appropriately.
Given the impact the parking strategy will have on the layout and character of the development, we recommend that the broad strategy for parking is explored in more detail at this outline stage. In particular, the western edge of the development requires further exploration to ensure that the parking layouts along the edge of the site do not interfere with the integration of the landscape and the built development. Whilst we acknowledge the design team’s efforts to create a soft edge to the countryside, we think this has not yet reached a convincing resolution.
In a neighbourhood of this scale, it is important that matters such as water and waste management, climate change adaptation, carbon reduction and biodiversity are embedded within the masterplan from the start. Criteria for sustainable development were not presented and therefore we are concerned that sustainability issues are not sufficiently integrated in the design of the development.