Work on a major regeneration scheme is drawing to a close in a deprived south east London suburb. Paul Nicholls of Wates Residential explains its community-driven approach to this ‘tenure blind’ project. Jack Wooler reports.
Erith Park is a large-scale, transformative regeneration project in the London Borough of Bexley. Developed by Orbit Group in partnership with Wates Residential, the project is a collection of 587 homes, comprising afford- able rent, shared ownership, and private sale. With just the final two homes to complete, the development houses around 2,000 people.
Transforming the former Larner Road estate, the scheme is professed to be community-focused, encouraging social cohesion, inclusivity and social diversity. The project includes the transfer of many of the scheme’s original residents who chose to be rehoused in the new scheme, as well as a large amount of new housing.
Broadway Malyan were appointed as architects and master planners on the scheme, with Clarkebond as structural engineers, and Turley Associates as planning consultants. A number of public sector organisations, such as the local planning authority the London Borough of Bexley, were also involved in the project, with the project including funding from both the GLA and MHCLG (English Partnerships).
Larner Road was formerly a local authority- owned high rise estate, in what has been described as a deprived neighbourhood. Paul Nicholls, managing director of Wates Residential, explained to Housebuilder and Developer: “With a failing infrastructure and 1960s buildings, the area had become synonymous with poor accommodation, lack of family amenities, and a wide spectrum of social issues. In turn, the area had a poor reputation, and was suffering from low demand.”
Orbit took ownership of the homes on the estate in 1997, following their transfer from the London Borough of Bexley. Following extensive consultation with local residents on options for regeneration, Wates was appointed by Orbit as regeneration partner through the then Homes and Communities Agency’s Delivery Partner Panel. Nicholls said that the project team has “ambitious plans for the area, seeking to transform the neighbourhood from one of the least popular in Erith, to the most sought after.”
PLANNING & CONSULTATION
Wates Residential led the planning applications process, with a programme developed initially alongside a list of planning application deliverables. These were agreed collaboratively between Wates, Orbit and the council early on to set the programme of requirements and ensure a successful planning submission, with a series of pre-application meetings to agree key principles.
“Residents are at the heart of every scheme we work on, so during this time a Resident Core Group was set up, and a number of community consultation events were carried out,” said Nicholls. This enabled the team to inform residents on the design progress, gaining an insight into their views and using their feedback to form part of the application.
“This early commitment enabled us to achieve timely, detailed planning permission,” he said. “We adopted a strategy of outline masterplan consent for the whole regeneration, with detailed reserved matters approvals for individual phases.”
A detailed Phase one application with outline planning for Phase two was submitted in 22 weeks, and planning permission was subsequently granted 16 weeks later. According to Nicholls, this was critical to Orbit being able to secure the grant funding they required to deliver a viable project.
DESIGN & BUILD
The scheme is one of the largest of its type in London. Phase 1 included the demoli- tion of five 14-storey 1960s tower blocks to make way for 343 new low to medium-rise apartments and family homes, and was completed 20 weeks ahead of programme. Phase 2 included the demolition of two further tower blocks and the provision of a further 244 new mixed tenure homes
The regeneration involved the transferral of 60 of the former residents, decanting them into the new homes. In order to guarantee a safe transfer, minimising inconvenience to them and their neighbours, the developer had to fully engage with all stakeholders to ensure that all services remained commissioned throughout, including drainage diversions, to avoid clashes. As part of this, the traffic management strategy ensured construction and residential traffic were separated, and considerate working practices were adopted to minimise dust, noise and dirt, resulting in Wates receiving Gold Awards under the Considerate Constructors Scheme.
The regeneration of Erith Park straddled the tenures of the HCA (as was, now Homes England) and the GLA in London. The development consequently complies with HE’s Design and Quality standards, as well as the GLA’s London Housing Design Guide.
“Critical to the success of the approach,” tells Nicholls, “was dovetailing the vision and masterplanning with the technical issues across the site.” This included responding to site levels, which varied significantly from front to back. Resolving the levels using the building typologies also allowed for increased parking.
The creation of an entrance to the site, and taller elements along the main arterial road, responded to Bexley Council’s requirement for a clear “gateway” to Erith town centre, that would give the new development a “sense of address”. Nicholls said that it was also important to design a “tenure blind” development across the houses and apartment blocks to integrate affordable housing with private housing.
According to Nicholls, the mix of tenures has been determined to “maximise social integration and local desirability” for an estate which had previously had “signifi- cant issues” with lettings and anti-social behaviour.
“We have worked with Orbit to ensure that there is no aesthetic distinction of tenure by finish, specification, materials, elevational treatment or location,” he explained. “A complete redesign was undertaken from earlier concepts to ensure the project’s buildability, best value and compliance with requirements.”
Following the success of the redesign and working relationships on Phase one, Wates reappointed the same design team to Phase two, where work is nearing practical completion. Once Phase two is completed, seven tower blocks will have been replaced with 587 new homes, housing around 2,000 people.
Both the houses and apartments at Erith Park have been designed to a high specification, to provide each home with sufficient light and a contemporary style, as well as many essential features as standard.
All the apartments feature a fully decked and glazed balcony, and the houses include turfed rear gardens with patio areas, close boarded fence panels, and a water butt and garden shed.
All homes at Erith Park are protected by a 10 year NHBC warranty, with high levels of security, safety and energy efficiency.
While all these homes have been meticulously designed on the interior, the focal point of the first phase of Erith Park are the home zones – areas which are designed to predominantly meet the need of residents and pedestrians.
“They are well established in the Netherlands,” he said, “but this is the first one in Bexley.”
“In this case, we used coloured tarmac, striking landscaping and interesting street furniture to signal to drivers that they are entering a community area.”
During the planning process, when planners suggested the removal of the home zone, the Resident Core Group intervened to support the design concept.
“A number of ‘playing out days’ were also held to encourage new residents to meet each other, and children to play outside.”
Community was an important factor in the design of Erith Park, as Nicholls explains:
“In partnership with Orbit, we listened to the local community’s needs to ensure authentic place making. This included creating community spaces where children and local residents could come together and play.
“We have led a full range of community engagement, involving and listening to the local community and keeping residents fully informed during the development.” As part of this, the developer implemented a Community Benefits Programme, based on the four main themes of Pride, Participation, Skills and Quality of Life.
“Our principal objective was to build a community and enhance the life chances of local residents. Our commit- ments under this programme included investing in education, skills and training opportunities for local residents, organising community events to mark key milestones, and enhancing the much-loved ‘Dell Nature Reserve’ area.”
Among the programme, the developer commissioned community art for the new neighbourhood, developed a self-guided tour of the area called ‘Walk the Talk’, hosted a demolition event – including the making of an award-winning video (The Ballad of Larner Road), provided training and short courses for 86 NEET residents and workers, site learning visits and workshops for 186 students, employed 31 apprentices, 13 new entrant and long-term unemployed construction workers and ex- offenders as part of the Changing Paths programme, as well as spending £20,000 on site with social enterprises.
Outdoor areas were landscaped and enhanced with artworks include benches specially sculpted by artist Will Jordan, and an entrance feature sculpture commis- sioned from Howare Boycott, which will be installed once the development is completed. Climbing structures have been included, and a number of “natural resources.”
Residents were given their say in the design of ‘The Dell’ Nature Reserve and its future development and management. The green space was the first part of Erith Park to be completed, and the land is protected from development due to the numerous nesting birds and insects living there together with bats, rabbits and hedgehogs.
The ecological benefits of the development span beyond the community and wildlife factors, however. The site was an old 1960s landfill, and the works included a major ‘cut and fill’ exercise, which included removing, treating, and replacing 32,000 m2 of hazardous material from the ground, which was then screened and treated before being re-used to level out the site, capped with 600 mm of certified crushed concrete. 95 per cent of waste generated was recycled and diverted from landfill, and all demolition materials were crushed and reused on site.
All of the homes were built to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4 standard, achieved in part by all timber elements being 100 per cent sustainable, including all temporary timber.
The site has achieved the 20 per cent renewable energy requirement of the London Housing Design Guide through the extensive use of photovoltaic panels on the roofs, contributing to 350 tonnes of carbon emissions being saved every year.
It is clear that community engagement and community benefit has been a key factor when building and designing Erith Park, from the careful treatment of decanted residents to the comprehensive benefits programme the team brought to the project.
The developer’s success in this area is also evidenced by it having achieved Considerate Constructors Scheme Gold Awards for two consecutive years, and being awarded London Regeneration Project of the Year 2017 at the London Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Awards.
Caroline Field, regeneration manager at Orbit Group, provided a glowing endorsement for Wates as a partner:
“Quite simply, the Wates team have achieved the impos- sible, and have done so whilst maintaining a continued focus on the importance of people – the people who work here, the people who will live here in the future, and our neighbours.”