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Urban Splash team set to build huge modular housing scheme for new town

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A team led by developer Urban Splash and architects Proctor & Matthews is poised to land what’s likely to become the UK’s largest modular housing scheme this century 

While the appointment has yet to be officially signed off, the duo are in line to win a Homes England competition to design and build around 440 homes at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire, the largest new town since Milton Keynes.

The Urban Splash-led partnership beat rival bids lead by Countryside Properties, Hill Partnerships and L&Q in an OJEU mini competition for the 8ha housing-led regeneration scheme, which is part of the 10,000-home development’s second phase.

The AJ understands that another architect ShedKM, which has worked extensively with Urban Splash on modular homes in the past, is also likely to collaborate on the winning project.

In terms of the rival bids, it is believed that Hill was partnered with architect HTA Design and Countryside with Tate Hindle. It is unknown who the architects were on the L&Q bid.

While not all of the housing units in the scheme – known as phase 2a – are expected to be factory built, the contest’s scoring criteria also included MMC (modern methods of construction) capabilities as well as design quality. 

Urban Splash and Shed KM have developed expertise in MMC with their ‘House’ brand in Manchester’s New Islington and at North Shields in Tyneside, as well as through Urban Splash’s acquisition of SIG’s modular building arm last year.

Meanwhile Proctor & Matthews, which is understood to have a masterplannning role, is already working on an under-construction modular regional office for project backer Homes England (see image bottom).

Northstowe is a sustainable new town being built on a former Army and RAF base 8km from Cambridge city centre. It was originally proposed under New Labour’s ‘eco-towns’ programme in 2007. Its first homes were occupied in 2017.

Providing the competition result is ratified, the Urban Splash team will build out at least 400 homes to the south of the first phase of development with a tenure split of 40 per cent private, 40 per cent shared equity and 20 per cent affordable rent with 60 of the affordable rent homes designated for older people. The team will also be responsible for estate management of the development for 10 years.

The Urban Splash team will also face a serious delivery challenge. The competition terms specify that it is required to develop the scheme at a minimum pace of eight completed homes a month, excluding affordable units.

An unnamed source close to the scheme told the AJ this represented a bold new approach for the government agency as it attempts to ramp up housing supply.

‘Homes England is now pursuing a new process whereby bidders are tied into delivering a particular number of units in a particular timescale,’ they said.

‘Potentially here you’d have one of the best developers and some of the best architects in the country delivering homes three times as fast as normal production rates, almost without defects.

‘If this works, it’s a game-changer.’

Phase 2a of Northstowe is covered by a design code which designates it as having a ‘dense, edge-of-town centre character’ and is earmarked to begin on site late this year or early next year.

The scheme is the second major modular development that Urban splash has landed in as many months. 

At the beginning of the year, the developer and Peel exchanged on a £55 million development to deliver a new waterside residential quarter on the Northbank of the massive Wirral Waters scheme, Merseyside, featuring 347 modular homes.

The first phase of Northstowe, which includes up to 1,500 dwellings as well as a community centre and a primary school, is being built by five volume housebuilders: Bloor, Bovis, Linden Homes, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey.

Homes England declined to comment. 

A410 proctor matthews (2)

Proctor & Matthews’ proposed modular regional office for project backer Homes England at Northstowe

Proctor & Matthews’ proposed modular regional office for project backer Homes England at Northstowe

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Clare Richards

    There are good reasons to applaud the appointment of Urban Splash to Homes England’s ambitious Northstowe new town, but they will need all their skills as innovators to achieve the eloquently described ‘vision and objectives’ in the Northstowe brochure.

    Given the need to deliver large numbers of homes, modular construction and an ambitious delivery timeframe demonstrate serious intent to rise to the challenge. If this can be delivered with the design and delivery quality required, it will provide an exemplar of good practice for others to follow.

    What worries ft’work is the lack of clear social ambition. Located 8kms from the centre of Cambridge, it’s hard to see how an ‘edge of centre character’ is to be achieved. The brochure gives no clues either, beyond brief reference to bus routes. Yet lack of connectivity is the biggest social issue for out of town housing developments, with residents often feeling ‘disconnected’. ‘Character’ cannot be sprinkled like fairly dust, as shown in the brochure’s bustling images. It is about people and how they interact with each other and their environment. This place will be home to 25,000 people. What is required is a well-planned long-term vision, which ensures a social mix at the onset by anticipating who is going to live here, where they will work, how they will engage.

    This is all about social infrastructure, defined as “the uses and activities which contribute to making an area more than just a place to live”. While ‘formal’ social infrastructure typically refers to amenities, such as schools or GP surgeries, ‘informal’ social infrastructure encompasses the diverse social networks that evolve and interact over time. They are interdependent and provide the glue that helps bind communities together. To ensure inclusivity, equality of access and opportunity, both must be properly facilitated in new developments. At Northstowe, how and where are diverse social groups, representing different age groups and interests, going to form and interact? How are the seeds of this community going to be established and grow?

    The brochure says: “Northstowe will have its own unique community. Friends and families drawn together around the reality of town life with all the amenities and facilities they could need on their doorstep.” Well, the ‘Positive community’ section consists of branding and signage; and the ‘Life in Balance’ section is illustrated with a photo of a hedgehog highway.

    The brochure might talk the talk, with promises of ‘education, employment and leisure uses’, but on closer examination the proposals include a wholly inadequate provision for a town of this size. Phase 2 is described as including ‘a new town centre’ yet, besides a small community centre and a primary school with nursery, almost all provision is outdoor. Few of the features that we now identify with thriving town centres are proposed. Where are the affordable workspaces for start-ups, small retail or industrial units, pubs, live/work units, workshops, community cafés, communal facilities, gym, cinema? Where are the social services, the day care centre for an ageing population, the indoor sport facilities, the youth centre? Where will people work? What will bring them out of their homes, unless it is to get in their cars to go elsewhere? Yes these things are costly, but the payback will be in social value, a thriving local economy and growth.

    Even with their capacity for inventive regeneration and collaboration, without proper investment and a very clear social plan it is not in Urban Splash's power to prevent Northstowe becoming yet another soulless satellite town.

    www.ftwork.co.uk

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  • Hopefully Urban Splash and Proctor & Matthews aren't going to be expediting the rapid construction of a glorified overspill estate, but they'll need to watch their backs if the pressure on Homes England to fulfill housing norms is risking creating just this.

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