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Partnership in Placemaking

Following the closure of the British Aerospace Aircraft works and aerodrome in 1994, this extensive area fringing the A1(M) became the subject of a masterplan (2000) for a mixed use development including a new campus for the Hertfordshire University, extensive medium and high density housing and local centre, the Howe Dell Primary School (incorporating many sustainable design features as reviewed in the case studies) and an employment area.

This case study concentrates on Phase 4 of the development, an irregularly shaped site of 2.8ha designated for housing, sandwiched between the local centre to the east, a large area of landscaped car parking to the south, a Listed former hangar to the north, an area of ‘set aside’ for a park to the north west and the main spine road serving the whole development area to the west. Given the former use of the development area it is not surprising that the terrain is almost entirely flat.

The planning authority, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, disappointed with schemes coming forward for the site, commissioned an urban consultancy to assess the placemaking potential of the site and to submit an indicative layout which would act as the basis for negotiations with housing developers to improve the quality of submitted schemes.

The developer commissioned an urban designer and architects who readily entered into pre-application negotiations to commence on a scheme addressing the urban design objectives in the indicative scheme, which were recognised as being feasible and which the development team could accept.

 A series of meetings ensued with the developers and their design team, the Council’s planners and their urban designer working on their behalf. Whilst details in the layout and form of development evolved through negotiation, the basic placemaking principles remained intact. At the time of writing a scheme based on these principles has been submitted for planning approval.

The main principles of the scheme can be seen in the site appraisal and design concept drawings illustrated below.

 

A. Site and Context Appraisal and Objectives.

Whilst the site has few obvious assets and features, there are features adjacent to the site to which the design should respond. The hangar has a scale, height and formality which requires the built form to front onto it and to enclose the space between. The Park also suggests that buildings should front onto it in a deliberate and regular manner. The main pedestrian route across the whole area forms the northern boundary of the site and thus would benefit from the natural surveillance of buildings fronting it. The recently completed apartment block is very close to the eastern boundary and therefore issues of privacy arise. The alignment of the site is such that the majority of building elevations will face a southerly direction. The main road on the western boundary would preclude direct vehicular access to individual houses. It would be important to locate frontages onto the road, to allow the private side of houses to be located on the quieter rear side. It is important for vehicular speeds to be reduced on entering the site from the busy main road; an entrance square with a building terminating the drivers view would introduce natural speed calming.

 

B. The Indicative Layout addresses the issues and objectives raised in the appraisal A above.

The overriding aim is to create a coherent urban residential area which has its own character, yet responds positively to the cues offered by the opportunities and constraints on its boundaries.

It can be seen that formal fronts face the Park and main road. A formal green echoes the axis of the hangar building. Blocks face the main footpath and have sunny rear gardens. The eastern extremity of the site has been laid out as a square, allowing a turning area and has included the existing block into the scheme whilst ensuring privacy for its residents.

The scheme has a street pattern of squares and greens, each of a different character, linked by formal streets. Rear parking areas have been kept to a minimum; the preference is for tranquil rear garden areas unless this is not possible. The short lengths of street (rarely more than 60m) and frequent intersections ensure slow vehicle speeds. Parking streets account for most of the parking spaces.

The southern boundary is the greenest and sunniest. This makes a soft transition with the heavily landscaped car park area adjacent to the site.

The original indicative scheme envisaged housing groups of between three to four storeys. Architecturally it was suggested that the scheme responded to and developed the domestic modernism of the Hatfield New Town nearby.

 

Project team:

Context4D - Urban design consultancy commissioned by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

Lavigne Lonsdale - Urban design consultancy commissioned by the Developers

Stride Treglown - Architects commissioned by the Developers