How we did it ... South coast eco-homes foster community spirit

Project: A mixed-use development in Brighton's New England Quarter with 172 eco-apartments and commercial and office space, all built to zero carbon standards.

Background: The site is part of a former railway yard that had lain derelict since the 1950s and had been the subject of failed applications for offices and a Sainsbury's superstore. It was purchased from joint owners Network Rail and Sainsbury's.

Who is behind it? Crest Nicholson, BioRegional Quintain and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.

Project aims: To construct a sustainable development, which achieves an Ecohomes excellent rating and builds a strong community among the residents.

Skills involved: Design, sustainable building skills, project management, community development.

The One Brighton project brings together the attraction of living in the centre of a hip south coast resort and the ethos of an eco-friendly home environment.

From the outset, the scheme was based on sustainability principles. A quarter of the building materials were recycled, such as the aggregate concrete that is partly composed of a byproduct of the china clay industry in Cornwall.

Located close to Brighton railway station, it encourages sustainable modes of transport. It offers cycle links and bicycle storage in each flat, as well as car club membership and electric car charging points.

A number of energy-saving strategies are also incorporated. All the electricity supplied is generated by the wind and solar panels on the roof. Hot water and heating is provided through an on-site biomass boiler fuelled by woodchips, old pallets and sawmill cut-offs. Even the taps and showers were chosen for their low water use.

For residents who want to grow their own produce there are rooftop allotments, while a caretaker is on hand to deliver organic vegetables. In such a healthy environment there is no reason why good neighbourly relations should not prosper.

A positive community spirit will be fostered by indoor and outdoor communal areas. An extranet will allow residents to share information easily and a timebank is being created to enable them to trade skills with each other. The scheme also reaches out to the local community, with 1,860m2 of office space offered to volunteer groups and non-governmental organisations.

Despite the attractive facilities, there was initial resistance to the development among Brighton and Hove City Council members. The vote to give approval in 2006 was close. Joint developer BioRegional Quintain managing director Pete Halsall attributes this to the lack of car parking.

There are only 12 spaces, of which three are designated for the car club and nine for disabled drivers. Furthermore, the development is high density, with one building reaching 12 storeys to ensure the project's financial viability.

However, the local community largely supported the concept behind the development and once the scheme was given the green light, Brighton's planning team made a major contribution to the success of the project.

"They ran a well disciplined process. If they had taken a traditional line and opposed the scheme because of the high density and low parking provision, things would have been more difficult," Halsall explains.

Construction is nearing completion, after nine months were added to initial estimates to ease the developers' cashflow. The first occupant has moved in and more residents will follow soon. "We seek to create quality well-built homes, shops and offices and real community spirit, as well as make it easy and affordable to live a green lifestyle," Halsall says.

Although market conditions are challenging for property developers, a healthy environment with the chance to get to know your neighbours thrown into the bargain will surely attract many buyers.

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