Sherford: one of a new wave of UK eco-towns

Sensemaking / Sherford: one of a new wave of UK eco-towns

15 Jun 2011

The UK picks up pace – and valuable experience – on sustainable town-planning

While much of the housing market struggles to find its feet, a wave of plans for sustainable towns is sweeping across the UK.

Among them is Sherford, to the east of Plymouth in South Devon, designed by the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment.

The Prince’s first eco town, Poundbury, has had mixed reviews. Built on Duchy of Cornwall land in Dorset in the 1990s, its vision included social cohesion, priority for pedestrians and a traditional country village aesthetic. Its architecture has been widely praised, and it’s proved popular with many. But some residents and others grumble that nostalgia won out over functionality. The gravel-covered footpaths are a nuisance, there’s no attempt to dissuade people from driving, and the house design prioritises tradition over energy efficiency. On the upside, Poundbury is providing useful lessons for new developments. The design for Sherford combines conservative aesthetics, such as its Georgian-style high street, with the ultra-practical principles of ‘New Urbanism’. All day-to-day requirements, from workplaces and schools to transport hubs and shops, will be no more than five minutes away from where people live – by either public transport or foot.

Plans for the town, expected to house 12,000 people within the next 20 years, also include a 500-acre park and sports ground, an organic farm, allotments and two community-owned wind turbines. Overall, Sherford aims to produce half its energy needs from onsite renewables, with the windpower complemented by solar thermal or PV on three out of every four buildings. Eighty percent will also be equipped to harvest rainwater, for use in flushing the toilets or watering the garden, and greywater recycling will also be implemented wherever possible. All homes will be built to the EcoHomes Excellent standard, and planners are considering car-free zones. Impressively, a recent environmental impact assessment concludes that the town will produce a net biodiversity gain, as Sherford’s rich mix of green spaces brings new habitats to land previously carpeted in monocultures.

As a solution to nearby Plymouth’s sprawl, “this is as good as [it is] likely to get, given the current economic conditions”, says Dr. Joe Ravetz, Co-Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Ecology at Manchester University. Ravetz praises the focus on accessibility in the town, but argues that “a light rail or tram connecting it to Plymouth” is needed, too.

A similar scheme is underway in Cornwall. The West Carclaze and Baal eco-community is a joint venture by Orascom Developments Holding and Imerys, involving the Eden Project and key public sector bodies. It will have walkable neighbourhoods, extensive parkland and lakes, efficient and affordable homes, and a range of renewable energy solutions, including ground source heat pumps, concentrated heat and power, and solar PV.

Meanwhile, the North West Bicester Eco Town is awaiting planning permission, following criticism from The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) that its eco-credentials aren’t ambitious enough.

- Emilia Hungerford

Image credits: Architecture in Motion

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