Millbay, Plymouth


Environment and community

The Millbay masterplan sets out a clear vision: eventually a broad diagonal boulevard will link the harbourside to existing communities, with Cargo setting the precedent for a series of urban blocks of similar scale, orientated towards a new marina and local centre.

Cargo is the first step towards delivering around 1,200 homes in a mixed-use urban quarter. The site is organised to create a micro community in a neighbourhood that has yet to take shape around it.

In response to the assessment of housing needs for the Stonehouse and Millbay area, the scheme combines both houses and flats. It is made up of 52 one-bedroom homes,72 two-bedroom and 10 four-bedroom homes. In addition to privately owned homes, it provides affordable homes, including the larger houses, which are pepper-potted into the design.

Cargo is within a few hundred metres of Union Street where there is a local centre with supermarket, bakers, cafes, pubs and evening entertainment. There is a local primary school and play area within a five-minute walk. There is good access to public transport.

Residential accommodation is Ecohomes ‘very good’ and the business spaces  BREEAM ‘very good’.


While the scheme follows the urban grain of the surrounding area, it also begins to re-establish a local character.

Four distinctive buildings enclose a courtyard. The east- and west-facing apartment buildings are clad in pre-patinated copper and zinc respectively. These buildings are linked by the town houses to the south and a further apartment building to the north, which are finished in render.

Balconies and timber panels are used to give the elevations a rhythm and more individual scale. The lifting of the upper residential buildings over the business spaces gives them the sense of being directed towards the docks, with longer views.

The design was developed to meet the client’s brief for a contemporary scheme that responded to its unique waterfront location. It reflects local vernacular buildings – but with a contemporary twist. For example, the use of cladding draws on the use of tile-hung elevations that protect coastal buildings against the elements.

For Robert Poole from Muse Developments, the project is successful because prospective purchasers like the building: ‘They appreciated the feel of the environment created and the design and finish, and they liked the living space and courtyard.’ Within a year of completion, all the flats and houses had been sold.

Streets, parking and pedestrianisation

The masterplan follows the historic street pattern that existed before World War II. The former use of the blocks as factories gives the street pattern a mid-scale urban grain that is developed in the way the buildings are arranged. Rather than create a U-shape set back from Millbay Road (as previous developments had), the architects set out to give this main route a street presence.

The way that the building meets the ground is carefully designed and each elevation provides active frontages, bringing life to the street. The site slopes down west to east by about three metres and this change in level is used to create a semi basement of secure car parking. Otherwise, parking is arranged on the street parallel to the kerb. The parking ratio is approximately 1:1.

The apartments are reached by six stair and lift towers that are accessible from the car park, the street and the internal courtyard. The business spaces open onto both the street and the courtyard. Security was especially important as initially the building will be fairly isolated while the masterplan is built out around it. The design follows Secure by Design principles and the street and internal courtyard have good passive surveillance.

Design and construction

The development has a strong street presence – and it is expected that further development will build on this.

There is a modesty of scale and lightness to the development. The buildings are well designed – much thought has been given to how they will be used and their visual impact. The buildings were constructed using a concrete column and slab with lightweight cladding; the smaller-scale town houses use timber frame. To the south, slender columns and beams frame the edges of the buildings. On the east and west, balconies project from the elevations over the street. The balconies are made from plain, slim, grey metalwork and Siberian larch.

The town houses are designed to intersect so that they alternately have an upper room with a wide frontage to capture views of the docks. Full-height windows, generous balconies and open-plan arrangements are used in the apartments to achieve the ‘light, bright, spacious’ quality sought by the architects. The apartments are designed to meet the Lifetime Homes standard.

The internal courtyard space is simply designed and provides three areas of lawn surrounded by seating; one of these has mature lime trees. The courtyard is shared by those who live and work at Cargo. Both the courtyard and underground parking will be maintained through a maintenance levy.