Skip to content

Building futures logo

Principle: Sustainable places should enable people to pursue a healthy lifestyle and pattern of movement, should be accessible for everyone, safe and convenient, and should encourage good stewardship of the spaces between buildings.

Introduction

People make places sustainable. If a place does not function and have meaning for the people for whom it is designed, it will not be used, or will not be used as it was intended. This module concentrates on the relationship of people with places: considering the location, layout and design of places to enable them to be used successfully. 

What is a place? It is any focus for human activity, it is a location where people want or need to be, a shopping centre, school entrance, workplaces, community buildings, playspace, bus stop, a park or a square. Places tend to work well when they are on a route, are connected, attractive, sheltered, safe, and have active frontages.

A transport assessment and a travel plan will be required for the following types of development, based on the current Department of Transport guidance: 

  • Housing developments for more than 80 dwellings.
  • Food retail development of more than 800m2 gross floor area.
  • Non food retail development of more than 1500m2 gross floor area.
  • Office development (B1) of more than 2500m2 gross floor area.
  • Industrial development (B2) of more than 4000m2 gross floor area.
  • Warehouse developmet of more than 4000m2 gross floor area.
  • Sports centres, leisure complexes, golf courses, mineral extraction, landfill and other waste disposal proposals.
  • Any development likely to increase accidents or conflicts, particularly of vulnerable road users.

In sensitive locations a transport assessment with a travel plan statement may be required for smaller developments below these thresholds.

Walkable neighbourhoods

Objective: To create walkable neighbourhoods and town centres.

Existing urban centres

The design and location of new routes within a development should seek to preserve and enhance adjacent urban areas, local facilities and services.

Integration

New development should be integrated into existing routes including footpaths, cycle routes and public transport networks, to enable good connections with existing local facilities. It is important to apply judgement as to which links are more important to reinforce.

Green travel

Development proposals should seek to promote facilities for other modes of transport, particularly public transport, walking and cycling. Development served well by public transport should consider whether more highway space should be given over to buses, walkers and cyclists, in preference to the private car. 

Green (and blue) infrastructure

The design of the spaces between buildings is as critical to the health, sustainability, safety and enjoyment of a development as the buildings themselves.

A green infrastructure is more than a cosmetic landscape plan, although it will include amenity landscape. It should include proposals to use green assets such as hedgerows and trees, as fully as possible. These assets will support habitats and biodiversity as well as creating shelter, a focus and a feeling of ‘rootedness’ in a new development, and possibly a way of shaping plots, defining routes and building phases.

They will also assist in water absorption and improving air quality. Linked open spaces, (overlooked by active frontages) of a variety of size, sense of enclosure and function should run through the scheme, to give pleasant walkways, opportunities for exercise and public sitting areas. They will also create wildlife corridors.

Opportunities for food growing and playspaces could also be integrated into the green infrastructure. Street tree planting for main boulevards, avenues, squares and even single trees for small housing groups should be essential components of a green infrastructure.

Street trees should be considered for their eventual height, scale and root spread. Garden trees may not necessarily be appropriate for street contexts. New boundary hedges and the private gardens in a scheme will also be considered as part of the green infrastructure.

Blue infrastructure refers to the planned handling of water and drainage on site. Inevitably this will be associated with the green infrastructure and will include swales, drainage ditches, balancing ponds and the other components of a sustainable drainage scheme, contributing to the absorption and slow release of surface water.

Mixed use, mixed tenure

Objective:  To create mixed use, mixed tenure developments.

Major new developments should optimise the potential of the site by accommodating an appropriate mix of primary uses (residential, offices, shops, etc) to support a variety of activities. It is important that these primary uses are conveniently positioned to enable safe and easy access to adjacent residential areas and are supported by a viable business case. 

Mixed uses are only viable if there is a critical mass or density of people likely to use them, within walking distance. By definition a mixed use centre has to provide the opportunity for residents and local workers to utilise two or more uses on the same visit. For example, to do some shopping whilst collecting children from school, having a coffee whilst waiting to collect a prescription, going to the library whilst on a lunch break from work etc.

The location of a mixed use centre is critical. Whilst it may seem logical to locate a centre at the heart of a new development, it can fail if there is insufficient footfall generated within the development. Thus it may be more feasible to locate the mixed use centre along a bus route and at the interface between the new development and the existing urban area.

In this case the mixed use centre is more likely to draw upon a larger and more diverse population. Mixed uses often take time to establish themselves and also might be subject to change of use. Therefore new ground floor premises should be designed for flexible subdivision and conversion. Refurbishment of existing commercial buildings might offer the opportunity for more affordable rental than new development. 

The three diagrams help to illustrate this and provide further guidance on criteria:

SPFP - mixed use

SPFP - mixed use 2

SPFP - mixed use 3

Integrated tenures

New development should consider the mix and proportion of type and tenure of housing to ensure that the needs of the local community are met and to ensure a long term well balanced diverse sustainable community. 

When mixed use facilities are included within a development, there needs to be a clear understanding of their impact on existing local facilities and a clear strategy for their long term viability. 

The design and location of affordable housing should be considered at the earliest opportunity to ensure successful integration. Most local authorities will have policies regarding the proportion of affordable housing to be provided in a new housing development.

Traditionally there will be guidance on the desirability of “pepperpotting” affordable homes in small groups throughout the development. Other guidance may require that the design of affordable homes is similar in appearance and density to market housing in the same development.

It is essential that the developer, with the involvement of the local authority, establishes a clear idea of the aspirations and lifestyle of the people who are likely to purchase affordable homes, as well as the ‘market’ homebuyers, in order to design homes.

Active frontages

Objective: To create active frontages, ‘territoriality passive' surveillance.

Streets should be designed to maximise the frequency of active frontages. These contribute to a lively and (where appropriate) economically viable street scene. They also help to deter crime and the fear of crime through ‘natural surveillance’ of the public realm. More guidance on safety considerations can be found in the safety module.

Objective:  To ensure access for all

Where feasible, buildings and public open space should be accessible for everyone.  This means incorporating lifetime homes standards, wheelchair access guidance and part M of the building regulations. 

Accessibility considerations must be integrated into a development scheme from the outset.

The centre for accessible environments (CAE) is a registered charity, providing information and advice on inclusive design and access to the built environment for disabled and older people.

A design and access statement must set out how issues such as access for people with disabilities have been addressed in the scheme, ensuring there is a greater understanding of what is being planned and what the final development might look like. 

Adequate space

Objective: To ensure adequate space internally and externally for storage, activities, parking, and adaptability

Adaptability

Proposals should demonstrate the potential to adapt buildings to different uses during their lifetime. Developers should be encouraged to submit alternative arrangements that deal with this issue. 

Examples of design flexibility include, as appropriate: 

  • Open plan or flexible floor plates.
  • foundations to attached garages designed to accommodate potential first floor extensions.
  • Garage space which can easily be converted into living space.
  • Open roof structure and pitch designed to facilitate future dormer loft extension.
  • On hillside sites dwellings to be built with basements, which can be converted to living, storage or parking space.
  • Construction with integral wall lintels to allow co-joining of units.

Robustness

Buildings should be robust and durable. Attention to the quality of detailing is important to the lifespan of buildings, ensuring that future occupiers appreciate the worth of renovating the building for other use.

SPFP - Adequate space robustness

Extension of buildings

Proposals should consider the possibilities for the future extension of buildings by occupants.

SPFP - Adequate space extension of buildings

Homeworking 

Residential properties should incorporate facilities for home office working. To support home working, EcoHomes specifies a minimum number of power outlet switches, data points and length of usable wall on which to place a desk.

Storage

The amount of storage space is usually underestimated in residential design, at a time when the demand for storage is rising. Storage space should be distributed in different parts of the house, appropriate to type and frequency of use.

For example:

  • Externally accessible storage, including bicycles, garden equipment, storage for recycling, workspaces.
  • Interior storage, including seasonal clothing, children’s toys and equipment.
  • Longer term storage, including luggage, archival material, perhaps stored in the roofspace. 

Garages, where provided, can be useful for accommodating not only a car, but many of the items indicated above. However, garages have often been designed with inadequate width for the convenient opening of a car door.

SPFP - Adequate space storage

The diagram above, from Design in Central Bedfordshire Design Supplement 1, New Residential Development (2010), shows appropriate garage dimensions for access to a car, storage and access for bicycles and an area for workspace. It should be noted that research was shown that most garages are used solely for storage and extra living/ working space (CABE). In view of this some authorities do not count garages as living space.

Where parking is allocated outside ground floor apartments or houses, it is recommended that cars should be parked at a minimum of 3 metres from a habitable room. This is in order to lessen the impact of exhaust fumes, car lights at night, doors slamming and loss of visual privacy.

Ensuring adequate space

In order to ensure that adequate internal space is provided for furniture and circulation, all furniture should be shown on room plans, including door swings and space for making a bed, food preparation etc. 

Planning for privacy

Privacy between homes is an important requirement for most householders. Acceptable levels of privacy, both visual and aural are conventionally achieved by the imposition of a rear to rear distance of (usually) 21 metres.

However in some higher density schemes, privacy levels can be achieved through the skilful alignment of habitable rooms, location and size of windows and design of boundaries, even where standard distances cannot be achieved.