Building sustainable communities – step by step!

This afternoon I called in at the public exhibition of the plans for ‘Castleward’.

Part of the display for phase one of the Castleward plans.

Part of the display for phase one of the Castleward plans.

Castleward – or the City Centre Eastern Fringes – is the area of Derby between the train station and Westfield.  For ten years or more it has been identified as an opportunity for a ‘sustainable urban village’.  This exhibition was an opportunity to talk about the phase one plans which have recently been submitted for planning approval to the city council.

There is a real dilemma here between enabling more homes to be built and ensuring that the homes that are built are fit for the whole of the 21st century and potentially beyond. 

The standards expected for homes – in terms of their environmental performance – are rising.  And there’s going to be a significantly higher standard required by 2016.  It is more expensive to increase the energy efficiency of homes once they are built – as we are finding with our own 1930s property – that constructing them with a higher efficiency in the first place.  In my role as cabinet member, a few years ago, I held out for higher standards for new homes on the planned extension to Heatherton on the west of the city.

But these proposed homes in the centre of Derby are not being designed and built to meet these higher standards.  If they were, then the developers fear that they would be more expensive than the market would stand, even though the running costs for the homes would be lower.  Most house buyers don’t yet think like this…

Transport is another factor in building a ‘sustainable urban village’ – and again I’m not very happy.  The designers have been under great pressure from the council to ensure that there is at least one parking space per property.  This is even though this is probably the best area of town to use other modes – the bus and train stations are a short walk away, there are all the city centre shops and local shops planned too.  If the developers think this is one way that they could reduce costs and aren’t concerned that this will put off purchasers, why is the council worrying?  Is this the affect of having Conservative councillors in charge of transport for the last two years?

I am also very much saddened by the tree situation here.  For the last 20 years or more, an avenue of lime trees has graced this area – and inspired the idea of a boulevard running from Westfield (OK, one does need to ask “Why Westfield?”) to near the train station.  It turns out that these trees are overcrowded and their roots are damaging (or at least threaten to damage) underground services.   So the new boulevard would also have new trees.

I would say, however, that despite my somewhat ambivalent feelings about the scheme, I had some very positive and constructive discussion about the plans.  I felt that the members of the project team were genuinely concerned about some of the same issues as I was, and knew they were walking a tightrope between achieving as good an environmental quality of development as possible, while still ensuring that it was commercially viable.  I suggested ideas and gave them contacts and encouragement for what I think in their hearts they’d like to be doing.  And they took some notes (a good sign!).

While I don’t think that the end result will be the ‘sustainable urban village’ the council may have hoped for, it will certainly be a lot better than it could have been.

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