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Whitecross, Scotland's sustainable masterplan

Hattie Hartman investigates Cadell2’s green masterplan for Whitecross, Scotland

The village of Whitecross, Scotland, was built in the 1930s to house the employees of the Manuel Brickworks. Today, about 93,000m² of abandoned industrial buildings lie empty on the 130ha site and Whitecross’s derelict streets are a stark contrast to the nearby historic Royal Burgh of Linlithgow, outside Edinburgh. 

An ambitious masterplan for Whitecross, designed by ex-Cullinan practice Cadell2 for Morston Assets, was submitted to Falkirk Council last month. It calls for a restructuring of the brownfield site with an employment-centred approach and 1,500 new homes, a primary school and other community facilities.

For David Dodge, chief executive of Morston Assets, the crux of the project is the creation of 1,200 jobs, primarily in the energy and technology sectors. ‘Sustainability is not just about green technologies or exceeding the Building Regulations,’ he says. ‘It requires a balance of employment with residential and community facilities.’ 

The masterplan calls for a 12ha employment campus with an enterprise centre to support business start-ups and home workers, which will be located in the new village centre. ‘Most traditional masterplans cater to large-scale offices,’ Dodge explains, whereas he envisions a spectrum of small- and medium-scale businesses. Discussions are under way with nearby universities about lifelong learning for and re-skilling of existing residents. 

The challenge for Cadell2 has been to tie in the 283 existing homes with the proposed new village centre, located at the geographic middle of the site, while working around existing infrastructure that also restricts the buildable area. A new east/west high street lined by three-storey townhouses follows the landscape contours of ridge and valley. Karen Cadell of Cadell2 explains that it has a woven grid structure. A lateral grain of two- and three-storey terraced housing and courtyard clusters encloses a range of outdoor spaces and defines routes into the surrounding landscape. Densities, which range from 65 units/ha to 25 units/ha, are high in relation to current Scottish practice for ex-urban sites.

The special challenge of sustainable masterplanning – enhancing a site’s natural environment and resource efficiency – is a complex strategic visioning process. The Scottish Government published a Planning Advice Note (PAN 83) on masterplanning last year, which includes an informative section on sustainability. The entire process is best underpinned by an integrated technical team. However, Cadell notes the difficulty of convincing a client to pay for additional consultants early in the masterplanning process.

At Whitecross, Morston’s in-house team undertook extensive sustainability research. The masterplan calls for a combined heat and power plant, and options for community ownership of a long-term renewable energy supply are also being considered.

Morston has submitted the masterplan to BRE Greenprint, a voluntary benchmarking process for sustainable masterplanning. The new housing aims to achieve an Ecohomes Excellent rating. When the sheds are dismantled the steel structure will be recycled and concrete and bricks will be salvaged. ‘This is different to what we would have done 10 years ago,’ says Dodge.

Dodge is adamant that the new buildings will look contemporary, and the 93-page masterplan is peppered with Scandinavian precedents, although the architecture has not been designed yet. ‘We have been working at 1:2500 and 1:1250,’ explains Cadell. Sustainability targets and design codes will form part of the local authority’s Supplementary Design Guidance, to be completed later this year.

If the physical and environmental design for the new Whitecross match the high bar it has set for economic sustainability, the new community could prove exemplary.

Client Morston Assets
Masterplanner/urban design Cadell2LLP
Planning advisor The Tyler Parkes Partnership
Transport planner Phil Jones Associates with WSP Group
Civil engineering BSP Consulting
Landscape architects Ian White Associates
Economist Roger Tym and Partners

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