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Allerton Bywater sets new housing agenda

Aire Design is aiming to deliver a sea-change in the way housing developments are designed and benchmarked in the future with its Allerton Bywater Millennium Community.

The scheme, for which Leeds City Council has resolved to approve outline planning permission, puts a major emphasis on the importance of the community and the public realm in a bid to build on the coal mine which formed the economic and social heart of the area for more than 120 years. A reserved matters application for the first 35 units to test design ideas and benchmarks was submitted last month.

But the plan has been subjected to significant constraints imposed on the design process by the Yorkshire location. Aire Design's Professor Doug Clelland said the scheme has also been a struggle in terms of contending with a series of key challenges to 'affordable innovation'. They include the remediated site needing a new natural and human ecology; depressed local market conditions; build costs for the houses being constrained to £500/m 2and the need to meet six benchmarks to demonstrate performance.These included targets on energy conservation, waste reduction, defects and digital communication links.

The masterplan consists of two main streets of public realm, splitting the site into four quadrants, with 'Home Zones' in each 'offering the street as an extension of the living room'. Blocks one and two - the first to be submitted - are designed to back onto shared 'hearts' which also form community and children's play areas. There are 12 house types in this testbed area and three ways of expanding them in these blocks. Each type has a porch, contributing to the 'hierarchy of streets and lanes'.

'Decisions have been taken to express the dwellings' interior qualities - greater area and volume, adaptability, healthy air, affordable warmth - rather than to express the exterior as a plastic composition, 'said Clelland.

The scheme also includes a 10 megawatt energy centre to be located in the northern employment area as an 'architectural pivot', utilizing gases from the mines below to provide heating for the non-housing parts of the development. The main pivot is the mixed-use visitor centre on Bywater Square, which will be the fulcrum for the whole community.

If the latest millennium community goes to plan, Clelland says the scheme may prove that 'an unlikely place in the north can deliver change - without falling for the temptation of either excessive architecture or the aesthetics of renunciation'.

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