Building communities – can all the factors be designed in?

It might sound like an idealistic vision to create affordable, energy–efficient houses, built around the principle of creating communities. Kevin McCloud gave  it a go in The Triangle in Swindon, and found it not to be that easy. Communities grow over time and need the means to include neighbouring residents. It is however, good news that the government has announced it will shortly be launching a new £30 million fund to provide short-term finance for self-build projects. It could be an opportunity to create well designed, energy-efficient, sustainably constructed, affordable homes.  So much of the mass housing that is built, woefully lacks any of those things – our construction industry seems stuck in the dark ages – unable to adapt to anything other than bricks and mortar!

There are a few bright stars on the horizon, and if Kevin McCloud can shake off the image that good design costs lots of money and only achievable for ‘Grand Designs’, we might be able to raise the standard of new buildings in the UK.  We don’t need, pastiche, twiddly bits or architectural ‘gob ons’.  We need imaginative design, built sustainably, so that people can live sustainably. The CANTEL Project wants to do that; a planned series of modern communities where neighbours and community are always at heart. The project is the vision of Julian Thompson, who explains more about what residents can expect.

“We plan to build brand new neighbourhoods that are safe, supportive, relaxing and friendly. Nowadays Facebook and Twitter are how many people communicate, whilst many of them don’t even know their neighbours names. These virtual communities aren’t helping people; we aim to give people the real thing, neighbourhoods with friends and neighbours, people who you can really connect with.” Thompson explains.

He continues, “Of course, affordability is also a key requirement, it’s madness that for over 15 years the average couple still can’t afford an average home in the UK. We’re not looking to make a profit, we’re looking to build homes and neighbourhoods for people to enjoy life in, and that includes me and my family.  Lower prices mean smaller mortgages which means more disposable income to enjoy life with.  Every home will be built to be as energy efficient as possible so that future energy bills won’t be an issue.”

Thompson and the team at The CANTEL Project have plans for developments to be located within commuting distance of London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Swindon and Stafford. See for more details.

Each neighbourhood is planned to boast around 40 energy efficient homes built around communal facilities including allotments, a small community hall and a children’s play area. With homes ranging from one-bedroom flats to 4-bedroom houses, accommodation will come in shapes and sizes suited to all budgets.

Finding sites will be the challenge – development, whether well designed and energy efficient or not, has an impact, all development does. Trafffic generation is often the main concern.  And such developments need to take account of existing residents. Green field sites are cheaper to develop but are likely to have the most negative impact. Brown field sites should be considered first and the government should still be encouraging this.