Oxley Park, Oxley Wood, Milton Keynes: design for manufacture

Oxley Park was built as a result of a competition to build ‘£60k’ homes at ‘Code level 4 for Sustainable Homes’, introduced by Prescott back in 2006. The winning schemes are mostly built out now or nearing completion across the country. Oxley Park, Upton and Newport Pagnell were the first to be completed. Oxley Park is probably the most modern-looking.

Somehow, these streets feel slightly uncomfortable; but this may have partly been the fault of a dull day, the lack of anyone on the street, and the fact that planting has not really established itself yet. Certainly, the vision of Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners on behalf of housebuilders Taylor Wimpey and Paradigm housing association was not just interested in the homes, but how they were put together as part of the neighbourhood.

These photos were taken just after occupation of the properties in late 2007 / early 2008. Welles Lane properties were selling for £230k at the time. Holden Avenue (site 6 Wimpey) was on the market in early 2011, selling for £200-£240k.

The BRE showcase homes had already shown how code 4 and 6 level homes could be built (see above). But these were one-off, very expensive eco-homes.

The idea of the ‘design for manufacture’ competition was to show that high quality market housing could be built inexpensively using mass manufacture techniques. The ‘Eco-hat’ (above) was the RSH chimney that pushed the eco-ratings up in these modular homes – used at the top of the service stack to control fresh air, re-circulate hot air and provide passive solar heating.

The detailing is incredibly crisp, but on some areas lacks visual quality – for instance the door fittings look flimsy. The juxtaposition of this modern, modular detailing against the more necessary clutter found in most developments is interesting too. The images below show how perhaps aerials should have been integrated into the design; also how despite eco-fencing, every Englishman still needs a garden shed.

I intend to go back soon and see how the planting has affected the development, how the neighbourhood has come together since the construction of the additional streets (there are about 150 homes altogether), and to hopefully ask some of the residents what it’s like living in mass-manufacture. If anyone living near here reads this, or you know someone how lives here, please let me know what you think. Whatever the issue, it’s pushing the boundaries and testing new ideas for housing – something generally lacking in this very conservative market.

Design for manufacture at Upton, Northampton

 

Shared Space, the evidence on accidents

This post reviews some of the evidence about the ‘shared street’ campaign; and also  responds to a very interesting post on ‘As Easy as Riding a Bike – the delusion of shared space‘.

‘Shared Space’ is a concept that is gaining much praise for improvements to the street environment, and has emerged from a much larger movement looking critically at the previous rules for the design of streets.

Through the past 60 years residential streets have been governed by strict ‘rules’, latterly set out in Design Bulletin 32 (DB32), which stipulated requirements for forward visibility, junction radius, road curvature, junction spacing etc. The result helped in producing much vilified ‘anywhere estates’ across the country. Much of the design requirements were based on false assumptions that have now been tested (and are still being tested), resulting in the emergence of the Manual for Streets (CLG, 2007). This publication was followed by Manual for Streets 2 (DfT, 2010), promoting the concepts for residential streets for use in High Streets and other high volume traffic situations.

For some further history, together with some examples of recent shared space schemes, see this briefing document. For years many of our streets have been blighted by design primarily for traffic and smooth traffic movement; and in many cases historic streets praised by local Councils were impossible to replicate, because their own ‘rules’ forbade it. The new guidance in the MfS 1 and 2 overturns the status quo, and has already produced some much better residential environments.

Shared street and parking at Upton, Northampton

Shared street in Upton, Northampton

The idea of the new approach to residential street design was to consider environment first, with vehicle movement as a lower priority. The main aim was not to reduce accidents, but produce a better environment. Many residential streets have seen great environmental improvements, and data so far shows that accidents on these streets has not increased, and in many cases the ‘side effect’ of environmental improvements has been a decrease in accidents (see tables on pp30-31 of this Appraisal of Shared Space, DfT 2009).

In particular, Kensington High Street was one of the first high profile schemes to emerge from the wave of new street design placing greater emphasis on the physical environment and pedestrians. The street was ‘decluttered’ in 2000-2001 with signage and railings removed in favour of promoting eye contact between driver / cyclist and pedestrian in order to change driver behaviour.

The evidence points to widely reported reductions in accidents at Kensington High Street.

Years later, a greater variety of different schemes have been completed (including Ashford in Kent, and Exhibition Road in London) and the evidence is still being collected.

These schemes are not necessarily the panacea they might at first have seemed. Where vehicle levels are high, there is a danger that pedestrians will be intimidated. In Ashford, evidence from University of West of England shows that pedestrians are not using desire lines but giving way to vehicles, many feeling safer under previous street arrangements.

Caernarvon square

 

Whilst the Exhibition Road scheme was generally lauded (although not by ‘As Easy as Riding A Bike’ – see above), shortly after opening it suffered its first accident. Caernarvon square is hailed as a success. Opinions are divided, and the acceptance of different schemes varies greatly. It is important that the evidence base is improved so that we can weigh up the elements of these schemes that make them work, and what needs further improvement. No one wants to go back to the cutting edge street design of the 1960s and 1990s. A trip to Basingstoke will tell you that.