Designing sustainable communities – a blueprint for UK housebuilding

At Countryside, we’ve always taken a landscape-led approach to our developments. This stems from my late father, Alan Cherry, who founded Countryside and was an original member of The Urban Task Force, which sought to promote social wellbeing and involve neighbourhoods in urban planning processes. As a result, our work is shaped by the belief that we don’t build houses but create communities.

Unfortunately, there is often an imbalance between the importance placed on building architecture and that placed on urban and green landscaping. This can lead to buildings that may well have individual design strengths being out of place or not being integrated into the urban realm. Creating a cohesive and integrated community requires a combination of architecture suited to the local vernacular and intelligent design that uses the latest proven solutions alongside open spaces suited to residents – whether that is for walking your dog or taking a jog.

Regardless of whether it is a home or a street, the only way to ensure the plans and the identity of any development is a success is to keep consulting the local residents throughout the whole journey and respond to their needs in the final plans. This is why we collaborate with local communities, ensuring that they have a sense of belonging and we gain a granular understanding of an area for any development before we break ground. Creating social value is equally as important as economic value and they go hand in hand in building communities for generations to come.

This focus on community development is reflected in our approach to the build programme, with community infrastructure provided early on. For example, at Beam Park in east London, as well as 640 new homes, the first phase of the development will deliver a new railway station, three-form-entry primary school, park and play areas and a medical centre, which will not only serve the new residents but also 7,000 people in the surrounding area. This commitment puts the building blocks in place for establishing a successful, sustainable community and creating a desirable place to live.

Similarly, the aim at our Brook Valley Gardens development in Chipping Barnet, which is regenerating the former Dollis Valley Estate, was to create a garden suburb for the 21st century. This masterplan involved a predominance of houses instead of flats, but at much higher densities than conventional suburbia and set within a well-planned landscape.

While the old estate suffered from significant social challenges such as petty crime and anti-social behaviour, through a new network of residential streets and a ‘tenure-blind’ approach, Brook Valley Gardens is redefining the area through creating a new sense of place. By bringing traditional London streets, squares and communal gardens back to the area, connectivity has been improved and there is a new focus on community outdoor life. Low rise homes are complemented by tree-lined avenues and boulevards that form the spines and main green corridors of the development and connect into a wider street network that has reintegrated the estate into the wider Underhill neighbourhood.

Returning the area to a more traditional street layout was also a key principle of our Acton Gardens development in South Acton. Once considered ‘a no go’ area of the capital, the transformation of this 52-acre site with carefully landscaped streets accompanied by a series of parks, communal gardens and podium courtyards has created an urban park at Acton Gardens that is not only bringing the community together but cultivating a sense of belonging, wellbeing and safety for residents of all ages.

A higher number of front doors opening onto the street has enhanced the community feel and provide increased natural surveillance and security. To re-establish the area as a desirable mixed-tenure neighbourhood, the new streets and homes within Acton Gardens are of a markedly higher quality than the existing estate. The homes incorporate materials that reflect and enhance the character of the area, such as the brick facades made from the specially blended ‘Acton brick’, which links the various phases of the regeneration.

A street is the artery to a development, the lifeline into a community and ultimately the way into a home, which is why the principles of suburban development are still relevant today. When combined with early infrastructure provision, extensive resident engagement, and a design-led approach that takes into account the local vernacular, the suburban development model has a crucial role to play in creating successful and sustainable communities.

Graham Cherry, Chief Executive, Communities, Countryside