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All-women team wins Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor contest

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An all-women team made up of architects, designers and engineers has won an international contest for ideas to boost sustainable development within the UK’s Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor

Led by Jennifer Ross from Tibbalds, the winning ‘VeloCity’ team met during a series of women’s cycling events and includes Sarah Featherstone of Featherstone Young, Kay Hughes from Khaa, Petra Marko of Marko and Placemakers, Annalie Riches of Mikhail Riches, and Judith Sykes from Expedition Engineering.

Their winning scheme was chosen for its ‘person-centred scale’ promising to retain the existing character of the area while delivering generously-sized common land at the heart of each development, integrated public transport connections with expanded pedestrian and cycle routes, and encouraging small-scale construction and local utility networks.

The two-stage anonymous competition, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, sought ‘forward-thinking and imaginative’ proposals which place sustainable placemaking at centre stage in the area’s future and received 58 entries.

The project is backed by the government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), and aims to boost the development of new housing, public realm and infrastructure within a 210km-long linear route taking in Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Oxford.

Other finalist proposals included a new National Park by Barton Willmore; an archipelago of linked, distinctive and compact places by Fletcher Priest Architects; and a series of ecologically rich urban campuses by Mae.

Jennifer Ross, VeloCity team leader, said: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled to win. The six of us met taking part in women’s cycling events and became friends through a shared interest in designing places that put the pedestrian and cyclist first.

‘We wanted to work together and the competition was the perfect opportunity. We spent a lot of time discussing density and place-making and how the implementation of new public transport infrastructure can change the way we plan for and think about building successful communities.’

Bridget Rosewell, NIC commissioner and competition jury chair, said: ‘The jury was drawn to VeloCity’s human scale approach to sensitively and incrementally accommodating new homes, alongside the team’s commitment to ensuring new settlements would be communities from the get-go.

‘Creating effective new settlements can be challenging: the team’s flair and imagination in addressing this shows how good design can translate into liveable communities.’

The finalist proposals

Shortlisted: Barton Willmore

Shortlisted: Barton Willmore

Shortlisted: Barton Willmore

Barton Willmore developed The CaMKoX Innovation Hive Delivery Guide – not a fixed masterplan but an approach that envisages organic growth within communities, delivering not just homes but vibrant places to support innovation and business creation. A carefully guided approach to encourage communities to acquire a rich urban form and varied sense of place. Situated within a new National Park, the proposals set a new benchmark for development that enhances the natural environment.

Shortlisted: Fletcher Priest Architects

Shortlisted: Fletcher Priest Architects

Shortlisted: Fletcher Priest Architects

Fletcher Priest Architects developed the Mid-Vale Archipelago, a constellation of linked, distinctive and compact places set within a continuous landscape. They propose ‘middle sites’ between the corridor’s major urban centres that combine the best of village life with the critical mass of larger towns while preserving and enhancing landscape character. The desire for beneficial relationships between existing and new communities is central – along with a patient approach to delivery that prioritises long-term capital benefits over short-term windfall return.

Shortlisted: Mae

Shortlisted: Mae

Shortlisted: Mae

Mae developed Urcadia – an ecologically rich urban settlement for the Just About Managing, the Yes-in-my-back-yards, the Millennials, and Generation Rent in the form of a ‘New Living Campus’. Their proposal combines the intensity and density of a city with the pastoral richness of the English countryside enhanced for leisure use, health and well-being and food production. New construction technologies facilitate economic housing for a generation suffering from no realistic prospect of owning a home.

Shortlisted: Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Shortlisted: Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Shortlisted: Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design developed VeloCity, a unique region in the UK that is no longer reliant on the car, supported by an integrated road-and-rail transport strategy linked to a network of local, medium and longer-distance cycle routes. Focusing on six villages situated to the south-east of one of the new stations on the Oxford to Cambridge rail link, VeloCity reimagines the 21st-century village.

The growth corridor runs from Cambridge to Milton Keynes, encompassing Daventry and Wellingborough to the north and bounded to the south by Luton, Stevenage and the Aylesbury Vale. It is home to about 3.3 million people and a high concentration of businesses in the scientific research and development, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing, performance technology and motorsport sectors.

The area suffers from a shortage of affordable housing and poor connections between its principal settlements, which it is thought could place a brake on future economic growth if not remedied.

Launched two years ago, the NIC is an independent adviser to the government on infrastructure policy and strategy which relies on cross-party support. Key recommendations so far have included development of the East West Rail project and the planned £3.5 billion Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

The call for ideas aimed to identify innovative approaches to help integrate new infrastructure with sustainable placemaking across the region.

Participants were asked to submit an outline concept focusing on either the intensification of an existing urban area or the creation of a new autonomous settlements. The four finalists received £10,000 each and were invited to draw up more detailed concepts in response to a specific site.

Describing the winning scheme, Annalie Riches from Mikhail Riches said: ’VeloCity is the result of a planning strategy that seeks to ensure the sustainability of the countryside while unlocking the potential for economic growth. We want development to strengthen the identity of village centres – adding housing density that will in turn support local village economies, rather than sprawling along roads as a car-dependent endless suburb.

’We want to grow infrastructure along existing corridors and support population growth with robust public transport links. Underpinning this all is a new cycling infrastructure – a light-touch network linking towns to each other as well as to transport interchanges.

‘The area of the country between Oxford and Cambridge contains some of the country’s most picturesque scenery, as well as some of the best opportunities to grow the economy – Velocity suggests a model that will allow the two to coexist in an achievable, pragmatic and environmentally responsible way.’

Judges included Andrew Adonis, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sadie Morgan a commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission, and Bridget Rosewell, the former chief economic adviser to the Greater London Authority. 

Adonis said: ‘The competition focused on essential challenges facing the UK, including how to accelerate the supply of affordable homes without sacrificing the quality of the environment, how to engage and enthuse the public in making the choices ahead, and to showcase how new infrastructure can creatively enable new communities to flourish over the coming decades.

‘The visions and imagery generated by the competition are tools that will inspire a new approach to achieving sensitive, infrastructure-enabled development over the next half century.’

Competition organiser Malcolm Reading said: ‘We would like to thank everyone who followed and entered the competition and, in particular, the four finalists who all worked extremely hard. This was the first ideas competition we’ve run and it was hugely exciting to see the contribution made by the design profession to national issues that have profound implications for future generations.’

Q&A: Sadie Morgan

Sadie Morgan

Sadie Morgan

Sadie Morgan

Why are you holding an international ideas contest to re-imagine the Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor?

The Growth Corridor is an important economic region of the country, but the lack of sufficient and suitable housing is holding back the area’s potential for significant growth and global competitiveness. The competition provides a unique opportunity for architects and designers – along with planners, economists and local people – to create an innovative and exciting future vision for the area. We want to see what ideas the best minds both nationally and internationally can come up with on the shape and form of growth in this area, which will help shape the communities where people work and live for generations to come.

What is your vision for the future of the region?

The National Infrastructure Commission published its interim report on the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford Growth Corridor in November 2016, and is due to publish its final recommendations in autumn this year. It’s for the local authorities in the area to ultimately decide on plans for their areas, so the competition is not focused on specific sites, but rather on providing ideas and inspiration on how infrastructure – such as East West Rail – and housing can be integrated to create attractive places to live and work in the region. We are interested in ideas that might promote community cohesion and that respect and even enhance natural capital and local character. Quality design will be a key factor in delivering such a vision.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We are looking for a broad range of ideas from urban designers; architects; planning, policy and community specialists; landscape designers; development economists; and others with local knowledge and general insights – from the established to undiscovered talent. It’s the ideas and vision that are important rather than whether an architect or designer is established – indeed, the emerging concepts at the first stage of the contest will be judged anonymously to ensure this. Finalists will then be awarded £10,000 towards further development of their proposals at the second stage.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The Growth Corridor competition is the first of its kind that the commission has been involved in. We have no immediate plans for any further competitions but, depending on our future studies and work, we would not rule out holding them in the longer term.

Are there any other regional-scale placemaking masterplan projects you have been impressed by?

Places such as the San Francisco Bay area have shown the potential for knowledge intensive clusters to operate effectively as a singular area. But the one I’m watching with interest is still being developed – Vinge will be a new city in Denmark, close to Copenhagen. Covering 370ha, it will be the country’s largest urban development project, linking a dense city centre to green space and public transport. As we look to support the Growth Corridor to further success, our competition is seeking to gauge ideas and innovation that could help this become a reality – and looking to places like Vinge to learn any lessons we can.

The shortlist

  • Barton Willmore – Robin Shepherd (Planning Partner); John Haxworth (Partner); Dominic Scott (Urban Design Partner); Gareth Wilson (Planning Partner); Michael Knott (Planning Director); Ben Lewis (Infrastructure Director); Peter Newton (Architecture Director); Carolyn Organ (Planning Associate); Vaughan Anderson (Urban Design Associate); Patrick Clarke (Associate Landscape Planner); Richard Webb (Associate Landscape Architect); Simone Gobber (Urban Designer); and Tom Carpen (Infrastructure Associate) – with Will Durden (Director, Momentum)
  • Fletcher Priest Architects with Bradley Murphy Design and Ron Henry (Partner, Peter Brett Associates)
  • Mae with One Works, AKT II and Planit-IE
  • Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design – Jennifer Ross (Director) – with Annalie Riches (Co-Director, Mikhail Riches), Petra Marko (Co-Founder and Director, Marko&Placemakers), Sarah Featherstone (Co-Director, Featherstone Young) and Kay Hughes

Honourable mentions

  • O&H Properties – Pippa Cheetham (planning manager) – with David Atherton (partner, Peter Brett Associates), Bill Gush (regional director, Land & Water Group), James Russell (Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Forester, Forest of Marston Vale Trust), Espen Østbye-Strøm (chief oOperating officer, Floodline Developments), Simon Collier (partner, David Lock Associates), James Clifton (architect and planner, Canal and River Trust), Jane Hamilton (chair, Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust) and Gareth Barker (Anglian Water)
  • OMMX – Hikaru Nissanke (director) and Jon Lopez (director) with Paul Toplis (partner, Price & Myers)
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