Discussions with a land owner in Lincolnshire looking at a specific site led to the concept of an eco-village on a green field site. The proposition was to develop affordable low energy eco-homes with the end result a dramatic increase in biodiversity but also no reduction in food production from the site.
The reaction of planners was to reject the concept out of hand making progress extremely difficult for an altruistic land owner prepared to transfer most of the land into a community land trust. The return for the owner on land at present used for growing arable crops, largely feed wheat, was some development in the centre of the village, based on the existing farm buildings and to become the utilities provider for the community. This central development might include a shop, community building, office and business units.
A key driver for the landowner was the creation not of a typical 21st century housing development but a village that in hundreds of years time would have the same appeal as, for example, the classic villages of the Cotswolds. Houses would not be based on supposed sustainable housing principles of high density and laid out around the needs of traffic but within in an outer circle road with every house oriented to the sun. This would enable all residents to walk to the centre of the village without crossing a road. A village for people not machines. This spread of development would be within a varied landscape with food production, based on horticulture and permaculture surrounding the properties.
Although the existing concept is based on a specific 150 acres of farmland, the fundamentals of the design should be applicable to any site, adapted to suit local conditions as long as accessibility and sustainable travel could be achieved. It also requires a landowner with the passion and altruism to achieve the vision and not just a dramatic increase in land value.
The proposal is looking to develop approximately 300 houses with integrated transport, amenities, commercial outlets, energy provisions, food supply as well as an innovative approach to land ownership and property leasing which allows for affordable housing and provides financial support for all the village’s needs. The proposal reverts away from existing planning guidelines based around massing and population and will instead focus on environmental strengths, social benefits and economic sustainability to support the operation of the village. This will be achieved by providing the following:
Structures built from local natural materials, designed to high environmental standards and integrating renewable technologies.
A range of starter, retirement and family homes to benefit a balanced community while providing highly needed affordable house supported by the ability to vary the land lease cost.
A transport system which supports the lifestyle choice to reduce car dependency and offers strong links to adjacent towns and cities.
- Uses the entirety of the village land to provide a balance to residential developments, commercial amenities, green spaces and agricultural/horticultural land for the supply of food, fuel and general infrastructure
This offers a unique community ran system of property governance and community control. Creating a Community Land Trust from the site before development removes the land value from the individual house cost. The house itself could be purchased freehold but the plot of land on which it rests would be leased by the CLT at a cost and term appropriate to the occupants. This provides affordability to the properties and a flexible approach to the leasing of the properties would allow for an economic outcome dependent on the individual, group or family moving into the property. Retention of the land in the CLT prevents infill or property extension ensuring the balance of homes, food production and green space is maintained.
Any successful development requires forward thinking and an element of “future proofing”. The proposal for housing would be designed with a focus on 2050 energy standards. This would not only be taken in to account post-construction, but also during construction. This energy efficient housing type means there is a reduction in running cost and an improved quality of housing and the objective is to be carbon positive rather than carbon neutral or negative. Growing hemp as a construction material on the site or land under the same ownership was considered not only as an environmental material but also part of the ‘return’ to the landowner.
Access to renewable energy is vital to the proposal. It would be important for the owner to support the development of renewable technologies on the site or adjacent to the autonomous village. The current suggested 150 acre site has the potential for a wind farm nearby as well as the use of anaerobic digestion.
Professional Service Support
The following list of processional services have been identified as potential support to move the project forward and to safeguard the project’s success:
- Energy Specialist (Domestic Energy Performance and Production of Energy)
- Services Engineer
- Permaculture/Horticulture Expert
- Landscape Architect
- Urban Architect
- Environmental Consultant
- Transport Engineer
- Socio-Economic Consultant
Ignoring the local planners we have not, so far, had adverse views to this concept. It is a way to break out of 20th century thinking to create a model for sustainable living that provides the basis for rural development fit for people and fit for the future. If you like this concept please do not tell us why it cannot happen but help us make it happen.