Nottingham pioneers with a European approach to home development.
The UK has been seriously lagging behind Europe regarding options available to the average punter wanting to buy a new home. Although there is a huge thirst in the UK for new and interesting housing, partly fuelled by the fascination of a ‘Grand Designs’ generation, the UK’s planning laws makes building innovative developments at best difficult and often seemingly impossible.
For the last 40 years throughout Europe and, in particular, the Netherlands and Germany, people have had access to a range of development options, which have resulted in high quality homes, communities and sustainable developments. In this article we look at how Nottingham is breaking new ground for the UK with the Fruit Market Development at Sneinton Market.
Instead of buying a generic box from a big housebuilder, Fruit Market is pioneering a new approach to UK housing development where prospective home buyers work with an architect to design their own homes and work with their neighbours to design shared facilities that benefit all.
Blueprint, the developers behind the Fruitmarket project, have called their approach ‘collaborative development’. A collaborative development is built on the core principle that if neighbours work together, they can develop a genuine a sense of community within their neighbourhood and have an environment and facilities that that would be impossible to achieve on their own. There is a spectrum of collaborative development approaches, typical features are very generous communal gardens, great outdoor social spaces, a shared apartment for visitors, or shared sheds so homes aren't cluttered with bikes and other unwanted paraphernalia. In more radical examples of collaborative development, shared elements can include living areas, dining rooms or even political beliefs. In most cases the former is more common where residents are simple looking to achieve a better neighbourhood, lifestyle and a house fits their lifestyle.
An example of a collaborative development is the Elf Freunde, Berlin. A group of friends purchased land which was part of a regeneration project in the area, in order to build eleven townhouses for their own use. The project was led by two of the residents, both architects, who created a clever design that provided exceptional quality homes at a fantastic price. These four bedroom townhouses were completed for £185,000 including the purchase of land and all construction work. By cutting out a developer’s margin and doing the hard work themselves, they built themselves superb houses, to fit their own requirements at a price that is impossible to buy normally.
Although the development has a touch of ‘Eastern Bloc’ austerity in its appearance, anyone can clearly see from the interior shots that these are exceptional homes. Through working together this group of friends created a flexible overall design where each individual home design was adapted to the the needs of the residents. Some homes are open plan, others more sub-divided. Whilst the gardens are small, there are shared green spaces and the street becomes a social space as it is car-free due to the clever parking plan. Through careful collaboration and management, this group of friends have built exceptional homes, a community and their own highly considered street.
Whilst Elf Freunde demonstrates close collaboration between neighbours to fulfil a collective vision, the Netherlands is demonstrating their commitment to a different way of development.
The Dutch began innovating in the 1970’s and now there are well over one hundred collaborative developments throughout the country. Known as ‘Centraal Wonen’, the developments can often be structured like small villages, clustered into groups of five to ten houses. These developments, like their German counterparts, often have shared facilities in some form.
More images of 11 Freude:
The Homeruskwartier district in Almere, near Amsterdam is a great example. The Almere development is introducing 100,000 new self-build houses to the Amsterdam metropolitan area. One of the unique features of this style of development is the flexibility that is placed in the hands of home-buyers.
At Almere, the development authority has drawn up the masterplan for the area, defining streets and overall layout, plot size and footprint of the houses. Plots are then sold at standard commercial rates. Providing home-buyers follow certain guidelines, they can build what they want. Almere contains a number of development types, ‘self-build’ - where an individual buys a plot and builds their house, dealing with the entire process. ‘Custom build’ where an individual works with an architect and developer to customise a house design for their needs and ‘group custom build’ where a group works together to build their houses and benefit from shared workload and costs in the development process.
Whist the Dutch model of ‘custom build’ is an exciting proposition, the UK’s difficult planning system and regulatory authorities make self-build a demanding task beyond the reaches of most working people. If you’ve got the money to self-build, you’ve probably not got the time to do it yourself.
This is why Fruit Market is such an important project for not just Nottingham but the UK as a whole. Blueprint, working with the Nottingham City Council, have developed a model with inspiration from pioneering developments such as the Almere development and Elf Freunde, but tailored with an an understanding of UK planning, legal and financing restrictions.
Both pioneering and practical, it combines visionary buyers with the professional expertise of a developer that is needed to navigate the system. Sneinton Market and Nottingham itself is hardly an East London property bubble, it is a city of modest income and is an area that is going through long overdue but vigorous regeneration. Making an ambitious project like Fruit Market, in relatively modest circumstances, is all the more impressive.