Play and amenity space for apartment’s – the role of design guides

In the forthcoming Design Manual and Design PPG led by MHCLG how will play and amenity space for apartments fare? The London Design Guide has shown how design guidance can change the ground rules and promote equality and inclusion but it would be good to see more consistency nationally and less wiggle room generally. Especially as outside cities the guidance on play and apartments is often patchy. Even though the needs of a family living in an apartment are arguably similar. If anything, public amenity can be scarcer in less urban contexts. 

Over a decade the London Mayor’s Housing Design Guide (2010) and Housing SPG (2016) have had a clear impact on the design of housing by setting out forty-one clear quality expectations. These cover the placemaking role of sites, the provision of communal and play space and issues to do with building design such as; space standards, aspect and sunlight, ceiling heights, noise and privacy, resource use and durability. These spatial quality standards have had an impact on the quality of private amenity in new development. For example, the requirement for a minimum of 5m2 of private outdoor space for each dwelling has led to generous balconies becoming the norm and to GF apartments often having carefully considered garden interfaces.

The Bristol Urban Living SPD, making successful places at higher densities adopted in November 2018 follows on from this with general guidance about design at city, neighbourhood, block and building scale – with quality guidance is presented as 14 questions or tests.  Does the scheme provide sufficient outdoor space?Introduces the same standards for private outdoor space also allowing that space can be provided in private communal gardens. Does the scheme creatively integrate children’s play? Noting that in recent years the number of children living in the city centre had more than doubled the guidance requires the integration of informal doorstop play for the under 5s of setting a standard of 10m2 per child for developments with an occupancy of 10 children or more. 

Swindon’s Residential Design Guide SPD, 2016 requires a communal space equivalent to the footprint of the apartment building or 10m2 per apartment is also suggested. It also highlights the need for clearly identified entrances from the street, dual aspect orientation and private amenity space. Teignbridge District Council’s Draft Design Guide gives more detailed guidance about a similar range of issues with much emphasis on providing a ‘reference point for character and identity of settlements within the district’. When describing expectations for apartment buildings it also advises – street entrances, defensible space to ground floor habitable rooms, parking to rear but makes no specific requirement regarding amenity.

Sometimes developers will say that RSL’s wish to avoid the maintenance cost of private amenity provision but as a benchmarkPeabody’s Design Guidesays each dwelling should have access to private external amenity space to provide access and views of green spaces to residents. It also advises that design teams should include landscape architects a recommendation often made to clients in design review.

Image: Extract from Bristol’s Urban Living SPD

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blue infrastructure a design opportunity

There is plenty of sound advice and exemplary design available to guide designers and developers when integrating sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) and make this an opportunity to add to the character of a place.Integration of SuDS

The excellent diagram (above) from Planning for SuDS (sustainable urban drainage) – making it happen published by CIRA in 2010 shows the range of ways SuDS can be integrated in the more formal or urban edges of a scheme by being integrated in paving, tree pits, rain gardens and roofs or running alongside streets in rills, bioretention strips or infiltration trenches. It shows how SuDS can provide contrasting spaces such as filter strips, naturalised swales, wildlife and wetland areas. Advice about the appropriate assembly of components is continued in more detail in the document with illustrations of the best components to use for high, medium and low density development and descriptions of how to embed SuDS in Design Codes or Retrofit into existing streets and spaces.

The authors of Planning for SuDS identify the “need to embrace water management as an opportunity” and advise design teams to consider the benefits and opportunities early on. A good scheme will be compatible with the landscape and integrated with the overall design strategy providing multiple benefits, for example, drainage and public open space or car parking. As well as managing flood risk benefits could include improved; water quality, amenity and biodiversity, water resources and recreation and education for communities. The benefits to developers in integrating SuDS are the reduction of maintenance costs associated with heavily engineered drainage and a possible increase the value of nearby homes.

Some important design principles are that sustainable urban drainage should mimic natural drainage, control water at its source and use sequence of components to manage flows of water and improve water quality. They note that: SuDS mimic natural drainage patterns by:

  • storing runoff and releasing it slowly (attenuation)
  • allowing water to soak into the ground (infiltration)
  • filtering out pollutants
  • allowing sediments to settle out by controlling the flow of the water
  • creating attractive environments for people and wildlife.

Focusing on SUDS strategies for urban design projects the most illuminating case studies featuring in this and other more recent guidance are:

  • Upton, Northamptonshire – which set out a design code for two street types integrating SUDS, one with SUDS at the centre and another with SUDS to one side with a footpath to the inside.
  • Cambourne Pool Redruth Surface Water Management Plan (SWMP) – where a design approach has been developed across an area with the strategic integration of swales or leats to open up new areas for development.
  • Malmo, Sweden and Reiselfeld, Feiburg, Germany are widely cited as good examples because of the bold way they integrate SuDS bringing water and wildlife features close to homes. The indefatigable Essex County Council have produced a design guide illustrated by these examples from Malmo and Reiselfeld and expanding on the advice in ‘making it happen’ with Essex focused case studies.

Dickie, S, McKay, G, Ions, L, Shaffer, P –  Planning for SuDS – making it happen, CIRIA, 2010 http://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/sites/default/files/C687%20Planning%20for%20suds.pdf.pdf

Upton Design Codes V2, Northampton Borough Council, 2005

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/site/scripts/download_info.php?downloadID=332

Nicholls, D, Cornwall County Council – Surface Water Drainage and Green Infrastructure

Sustainable Drainage Systems, Essex County Council, 2014

https://www.essex.gov.uk/Environment%20Planning/Environment/local-environment/flooding/View-It/Documents/suds_design_guide.pdf

See also ongoing archive of case studies at Susdrain:

http://www.susdrain.org/case-studies/

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how to make the most of trees and wider contemporary green infrastructure solutions

TDAG

It might seem obvious to say that: “having trees in development should be the normal and expected thing to happen” but too often a lack of commitment on behalf of whole delivery teams means that trees are lost from proposals one by one. Its good to see eight local authorities grasp the nettle and be proactive about integrated approaches to including trees in street design. The 8Cs (Derby and Derbyshire, Leicester and Leicestershire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and more recently Blackpool Council and Cheshire East) are planning to deliver a new design guide that builds on MfS and MfS2.

With the support of the Tree Design Action Group (TDAG) they held a workshop earlier this year to look at how the guide could promote and support the integration of trees and wider contemporary green infrastructure solutions. They explored the key principles of: collaborative design, priortizing walking and cycling, supporting innovation and delivering welcoming, inclusive, resilient and safe places. To make sure including street trees in projects does become the norm 8Cs and TDAG recommended that:

  • Design choices for trees should be context sensitive, identifying the right tree species,
  • When weighing up benefits value the whole life benefit of the tree. Trees have immediate and wider value. Can use i-tree to assess.
  • Realise the opportunity to impact on air quality, reduce flooding, sequester carbon and prevent overheating in urban areas.
  • Place trees intelligently and consider integration with footways and carriageway, parking and vehicle speed management, utilities and microclimates.
  • Technically – seek space efficient integration with utilities, protect trees, ensure adequately nourished and watered and minimize maintenance.
  • Take a joined up approach when advising developers.

The knowledge base to support integrated approaches is developing internationally with some excellent advice being published by TDAG. Their publication: Trees in Hard Landscapes, A Guide for Delivery, TDAG 2014 includes 30 Case Studies from the UK, Europe, the USA and Canada and some excellent diagrams and sections offering technical design solutions and notes on appropriate species selection.

http://www.tdag.org.uk

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space to park

Intelligent integration of parking is key element in the success of residential layouts in use as evidenced by research for Space to Park. This is is a follow up to ‘What Works Where’ the English Partnership/Design for Homes guidance on approaches to parking published in 2006. It gives updated recommendations based on current policy and research into user satisfaction with parking at 402 schemes in Kent. Six case studies selected from the 402 schemes record why user satisfaction as an average was as low as -83%.

51Parking in use was recorded on a Saturday morning when most people would be at home. Each case study is illustrated with a diagram showing rogue parking or “cars parked not in accordance with design”. In the case studies visited on Saturday mornings fifty percent of parking was outside allocated bays with people preferring to park on street (or pavement) rather than in courts.

The second of the four recommendations is: “Allocated parking spaces should cater for the average parking requirement of households based on the house size. Unallocated spaces should provide for at least twenty percent additional spaces.”

  • Link the maximum number of allocated spaces to the average car ownership. One and two bedroomed houses and flats – one space, three bed units – would have a mix of one and two spaces (depending on their location) and four bed plus – two spaces.
  • Ideally this figure would include garages that to be counted need to be at least three meters wide internally.
  • This level of allocated spaces needs to have around twenty percent of unallocated spaces to take up the slack.

The research demonstrates what is already quite widely understood that over reliance on rear parking courts does not work well with actual user behaviour and that a variety of approaches to parking should be adopted in schemes to give more flexibility.

www.spacetopark.org

Space to Park (2013) is part of the AHRC funded Home Improvements Knowledge Exchange and has been developed jointly by Urbed, Design For Homes and the University of Edinburgh.

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building for Life 12: Integrating into the neighbourhood

images-1Permeable new housing development promotes the establishment of sustainable movement patterns. In the revised and more focused national housing design standard; Building for Life 12 a significant improvement was the moving of the question “Does the scheme integrate with existing, roads, paths and surrounding development?” from the 14th to the 1st consideration for new housing development.

Achieving a design that meets this recommendation can be frustrating for developers as often the ability to make this happen rests with local authorities and existing communities. It is quite common for example for existing communities to resist the use of footpaths by new development so that the same route has to be (less well) duplicated. Frequently new developments are created as giant cul de sacs – internally well connected but detached from their surroundings and unlikely to encourage sustainable patters of movement. In effect adding traffic to existing networks that local communities will also have sought to resist.

That this lack of connectivity is something quite common to current patterns of development was borne out by the transport planner Phil Jones in his review for the Urban Design Group of how well the design principles of Manual for Streets 2 are being embedded in current practice – http://www.urbannous.org.uk/manual-for-streets.htm – His view is slowly especially at the macro or strategic scale of development. Creating good connectivity requires a clear strategic vision about the integration of new homes from the local authority so that stakeholders and neighboring landowners can be encouraged to work together to link developments.

http://www.builtforlifehomes.org/

Image – A Plethora of Poundburys, from Streets and Patterns by Stephen Marshall, Taylor and Francis, 2004.

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