Representing an investment of over £200 million in a project that promises to create and sustain thousands of jobs and provide huge benefits to local infrastructure, the proposed Dissington Garden Village has been heralded as a ‘game-changer’ for the North East.
The project prides itself on its commitment to build a new sustainable community of 2000 new homes and associated facilities on the Dissington Estate, just outside Ponteland and Darras Hall.
Designed by world-renowned architect and Newcastle University alumni Sir Terry Farrell – already a well-known name in the region through his work on major projects including the master planning of the Newcastle Quayside, The Centre for Life and the Great North Museum: Hancock – the design of Dissington Garden Village has been meticulous, to create a vibrant community with homes and facilities for everyone.
Likened to a ‘Poundbury for the North’, it will be a new community of exceptional design quality with multi-functional green infrastructure like orchards, grazing land, nature reserves and recreation space for the benefit of both the new village and the surrounding area.
Critically, feedback and opinions from local Ponteland residents have also played a central role in the planning of the landscape-led design project.
As well as creating the new garden village, developer Lugano will invest around £93 million in infrastructure including a flood alleviation scheme, countering a frequent and well-known local issue in Ponteland, as well as enabling the long-awaited creation of a Ponteland Relief Road, which has been seen as a community necessity for over 50 years, and is an important element of the Neighbourhood Plan.
Furthermore, in addition to the investment in the new garden village facilities that include leisure, education and medical provision, more than 3600 jobs will be created during the construction phase, with a further 2000 ‘more and better’ full time equivalent jobs set to be sustained post-completion, making the project a key driver for much needed economic growth in Northumberland.
However, the plans have not been without controversy, with objections focusing on the fact it would build on green belt land, as well as the claim that the local area could not cope with such levels of additional housing.
Lugano points to the fact that while objections may have been well-documented, equally they have received much local support for the Dissington Garden Village project. This comes in addition to high-level backing from the business community, with the North East England Chamber of Commerce and North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) being amongst their many supporters. The project also secured a grant from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to specifically support the further development of the scheme.
Allan Henderson, commercial director of Lugano Developments, says: “I think part of the problem we have encountered is that people don’t really understand what a garden village is and why it will be different. This will not be a housing development tagged onto an existing village – this will be a stand-alone, self-sufficient community, which will also bring significant benefits in terms of jobs and infrastructure. It is fundamentally different to what has been done before.
“Significantly, due to the uplift in the value of the land, money can be invested in the community and in bringing this much-needed infrastructure. This will be a level of investment many times greater than a traditional housing development could bring. The infrastructure, in particular, will be of great importance to the local community, in that significant sums of private money are going to be used for public benefit in such important areas as flood alleviation and road upgrades.”
Lugano chairman Richard Robson says the emphasis of Dissington Garden Village will be on the quality of the project, and that the need to engage the local community has been prevalent from the outset. Together with the Prince’s Foundation, they undertook the Enquiry by Design initiative to inform the masterplan and design principles.
“The fact we are working with the Prince’s Foundation can be seen as a form of quality assurance mechanism. They require a very detailed level of control over the design and are rightly precious about the projects they decide to get involved in,” he said.
“As part of our commitment to engaging with the local community, ourselves and the Prince’s Foundation hosted a series of design events and drop-in sessions with residents so they could learn more about the project and give their views. Their views have most certainly been listened to, and indeed have helped to shape our plans. That is very much ongoing and will continue throughout the development process.”
Through the promise to create a new community, Dissington Garden Village would include a variety of houses, from starter homes to executive properties, with around 30 percent being affordable housing. Furthermore, Dissington Garden Village is committed to meeting the zero carbon target on all homes, making it a model of sustainable construction mindful that energy efficiency, although vital to reducing carbon emissions, should not displace the social and economic infrastructure that turns a new-build development into a neighbourhood and new-build residents into communities.
“To truly be a community, that variety is essential. The village will create opportunities, including for people already living locally. There may be residents of Darras Hall for example, perhaps retired couples looking to downsize, and currently there is nowhere for them to go. Dissington Garden Village would offer a very desirable location to move into,” adds Allan.
The involvement of Sir Terry Farrell, one of only 14 recipients of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Gold Medal, is seen as a further huge coup for the project.
Sir Terry, who also spent much of his childhood in Newcastle, comments: “I recognised that a new village at Dissington, being in the green belt, would be both controversial but also a substantial opportunity. An opportunity to be the next game changer for the North East, in much the same way as the redevelopment of the Newcastle Quayside was.
“As such, Dissington is an excellent example of the need to argue for a more proactive approach to planning the green belt. What if developers were asked to ensure that, for every acre of green belt developed, another five acres of low-quality and environmentally harmful green belt were converted into cleaner agricultural land or high-quality green space for leisure and recreation?
“Dissington offers such opportunities, providing over 200 acres of accessible usable public space, remediating it and making it available for public benefit.”
Proposals for Dissington will also extend the Garden City Community Land Trust model. Instead of the capture of land value being retained for the benefit exclusively of the new community, it will be shared with the existing community. This will be delivered from a combination of substantial contributions towards identified local improvements in need of investment, such as the regeneration of the adjacent town centre.
The extent of these payments has been hailed as exceptional. Research undertaken by DCLG and Savills points to £10,300 as being a typical value of benefits to the community raised through a mix of Section 106 payments and the Community Infrastructure Levy. In the North East this is thought to be significantly less, perhaps as little as £3000 per house – yet Dissington is proposing a contribution to infrastructure of around £50,000 per home, nearly 20 times the North East average.
The Dissington Garden Village project will also see the creation of a community trust, which will manage a new R&D ‘Innovation Hub’ incorporating up to 75,000 sq ft of commercial and innovation business space providing a focus for business support activities for Dissington, the locality and the region.
The Dissington Development Trust will be a social enterprise managing a community farm and a range of services provided across the garden village, employing up to 50 people and generating an annual turnover of around £2 million. It promises to fulfil a number of aims identified in the Manifesto for Social Enterprise in Northumberland, published in 2012, and has a vision of becoming a model for future sustainable economic development.
Richard concludes: “We have been committed to public engagement and quality since the very beginning of this project and we will continue that throughout its life. We want to deliver something of the highest quality that the region can be really proud of, and to create a very desirable and self-sustaining new community in which people will want to live.”