How we did it: Taking forward plans for an urban village

Developers have cooperated with a Hampshire authority in drawing up plans for a large-scale urban extension sited on former Army land. Jonathan Tilley reports

Wellesley leaders: (left to right) ADAM Urbanism director Robert Adam, Grainger director John Beresford and Rushmoor Council development manager John Thorne (pic Julian Dodd)
Wellesley leaders: (left to right) ADAM Urbanism director Robert Adam, Grainger director John Beresford and Rushmoor Council development manager John Thorne (pic Julian Dodd)

Project: Wellesley, Aldershot

Organisations involved: Grainger, ADAM Urbanism, Rushmoor Borough Council

Earlier this month, work began on building the first new homes at a long-awaited urban extension for Aldershot. Over the next 25 years, the 150-hectare former Aldershot Garrison will be transformed into a community called Wellesley, which will encompass 3,850 homes, 2.4 hectares of employment land, two primary schools, a town centre and community and leisure facilities.

Lying north of Aldershot town centre, the site features six listed buildings, including the Cambridge Military Hospital and the Army’s former divisional headquarters. Most of these will be refurbished as homes. The headquarters building will become the heart of the community, with shops, restaurants, a pub and office space. To mitigate the impact on the nearby Thames Basin Heaths special protection area, 110 hectares of natural greenspace are included, mostly on adjoining land owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD announced plans to vacate the garrison more than a decade ago. In March 2011, its estate management arm, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, chose developer Grainger as its partner, over competing bids from Taylor Wimpey and Argent.

Grainger will incur all the planning costs and these will be recouped as it sells off parcels of land for development. Development director John Beresford says the company’s strategic approach was the rationale for its selection and anticipates that it will remain involved throughout the 25-year development period.

Housebuilder Bellway Homes has purchased the site allocated for the first phase of new housing, where detailed permission has been granted for 235 homes. The site adjoins the listed Smith Dorrien House, which is earmarked for conversion to community use in due course.

The Wellesley site will provide the majority of homes allocated in Rushmoor Borough Council’s core strategy, in an area with few other options for major development. Council development manager John Thorne points out that, given the MoD’s long-known intention to pull out, the now defunct South East Plan envisaged the site’s redevelopment.

Thorne says Rushmoor took a "project management approach" in getting the outline planning application, submitted in January 2013, to committee within six months. "This was achieved, although it took some months longer to finalise legal agreements," he says. The section 106 agreement was signed off this March.

The scheme will include 35 per cent affordable housing, a proportion set in Rushmoor Council’s core strategy. Grainger is happy with this requirement, Beresford says. However, the total number of houses has been reduced from the core strategy’s original target of 4,500, on the basis that this figure would make the development too dense.

Grainger began working with the council as soon as it was appointed and set up a steering group with council officers and their consultants. At the height of the planning process, this group met every two weeks. "That allowed us to work out everything practically with the council, so the planning application was a relatively smooth process," Beresford explains.

Consultation involved exhibitions in the town, on site and at Army shows. Beresford says a good working relationship has been fostered with both community and council. "People want to see something happen at Wellesley," he says.

Beresford adds that "vision was key" in Grainger’s approach, recognising the site’s "symbiotic relationship" with Aldershot and the importance of improving its town centre. "If you make Aldershot a better place, that’s going to make this development more attractive," he says.

Consultants ADAM Urbanism produced the masterplan and detailed designs for Wellesley. Director Robert Adam says he was keen to avoid "designing by constraint". He began the masterplanning process with a short, jargon-free "vision statement" to guide everyone towards a common purpose. This envisaged Wellesley as "an integrated but distinct district of Aldershot, defined by its heritage, historic assets and geography".

Adam says by basing the masterplan on the site’s existing grid layout and reusing key buildings, its military heritage will be retained and a lasting identity created for the scheme. No particular architectural style has been set out, but design codes will ensure uniformity and balance. "It’s important to work with the site rather than against it," Adam says.

He observes that the masterplan was a team effort. "Everyone knew what we were trying to do. It is not about a process but a product," he says. Thorne says Rushmoor Council "actively pursues good development", and Beresford says its "can-do attitude" has been an important factor in getting work to this stage.

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