The concept of the ’20-minute neighbourhood’ has gained considerable interest in the past few months, particularly since the publication of the Scottish National Planning Framework (NPF4) Interim Statement in late 2020. The principle is that infrastructure and services are embedded where they are needed by local residents to ensure that homes are built close to schools, employment hubs, shops and healthcare and community facilities. By doing so, there is a reduced need for travel and movement by foot and by bike is actively supported and encouraged.
The concept has been dramatically (and swiftly) demonstrated in Paris, where Mayor Anne Hidalgo has made the ‘15-minute city’ a focus for many planning decisions in the city. In less than a year, she has transformed the way Paris residents move around the city through the pedestrianisation of significant areas of the city, the inclusion of bike lanes on every street and huge reduction in parking spaces for private cars. In Melbourne, 20-minute neighbourhoods have been developed where all key services (shops, schools, parks and doctors) are within a 20-minute walk, bike ride or public transport journey. Such self-sufficient communities aim to reduce travel and the corresponding pollution, increase community cohesion and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors.
OPEN’s place-making work has supported such principles and concepts for many years and our work always seeks to put people and residents at the heart of developments, supporting their needs and wellbeing. We have undertaken research on the application of health and wellbeing design principles to design and planning. In parallel with our concern for environmental sustainability is our concern for social sustainability. This has for many years been captured through the idea of ‘place-making’ but we are increasingly aware of the importance of specifically designing to support health and wellbeing in new places. People now expect to live and work in places which support their wellbeing and productivity, but also inspires them.
Of particular relevance to these themes of resilience, an infrastructure-first approach and planning for health and wellbeing are OPEN’s proposals for the Drumshoreland Garden Community on behalf of Elan Homes / Amber REI (Agriculture) Ltd. These proposals were progressed from the start of the Global Pandemic and evolved to reflect a flexible and resilient framework which can accommodate the realities of the post Covid-19 economy and the increasingly urgent Global Climate Emergency. We are living in unprecedented times and the twin challenges of the Global Climate Emergency and the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic are impacting every aspect of life globally – it is not an exaggeration to say that things will never (and should never) be the same again. Addressing both these huge problems is everyone’s responsibility and should be at the forefront our minds when tackling our day-to-day work. Development and planning have a particularly important role to play to ensure that climate change is the guiding principle to achieve a net-zero Scotland by 2045. Elan Homes are acutely aware of the role they can play in addressing these challenges through their developments and their vision for Drumshoreland Garden Community is therefore one which encompasses climate change, wellbeing and the creation of resilient communities.
As we all have spent more time at home due to the global pandemic, the importance of where we live and how we live has been questioned as never before. In addition to the design of the physical homes themselves there has been a welcome (and long overdue) recognition of the importance of the surrounding landscape and environment within which our homes are set. Access to these outdoor spaces for exercise, to meet family and friends and to experience nature has never been more important to improving our health and wellbeing. The ease of getting around by walking and cycling is appreciated more than ever and there has been a sustained increase in rates of both, supported by fast responses from local authorities who have implemented local improvements across the country which we hope to see move from temporary to permanent arrangements. The importance of being able to access local services and infrastructure within a ‘20 minute neighbourhood’ has been recognised in emerging policy and with the rates of working from home likely to remain high in the post-COVID-19 situation, there is a bigger population available to support a wider range of local facilities. The proposals for Drumshoreland Garden Community reflect all these changes in priorities and demands, putting place-making, landscape and the sensitive response to the surrounding environment and communities at the heart of all decision-making. This is particularly relevant to the specific context of West Lothian, with its rich history of villages which have their respective fiercely defended identities but also a strong record of mutual support and sharing of resources. Drumshoreland Garden Community must be able to exist harmoniously, yet distinctively, amongst these villages, complementing rather than competing.
The vision for the new settlement is as a unique mixed-use development based on the principles of a Garden Community. The ideas of a ‘Garden City’ have been around since the turn of the 19th Century and originally aimed to allow for the positive features of a countryside environment living experience with the benefits of an urban environment. Drumshoreland Garden Community takes this approach and updates it to the challenges of the declared climate emergency to focus on ‘place’ and realise the following benefits:
- Provides a resilient and robust framework which supports the target of a net-zero Scotland by 2045;
- Allows the best of town and country to flourish;
- Provides facilities which support a “20 minute neighbourhood”, including schools, community facilities and shops;
- Creates new safe and convenient routes to allow for active travel and reduce the need for vehicle movements and ownership;
- Provides open space, gardens and opportunities to grow food and nurture our environment;
- Allows and accommodates the changing needs of residents by providing adaptable homes which allow working from home and/or plenty of choices of house types and tenures;
- Ensures that a range beautifully and imaginatively designed homes with gardens which reflect the best of the local characteristics are available to a wider range of resident;
- Supports health and well-being when spending time at home and allows residents to properly live and be in the place;
- Creates development which enhances the natural environment and provides a comprehensive blue-green infrastructure network to enhance biodiversity;
- Ensures everyone has access to nature on their doorstep;
- Encourages a culture change towards low-carbon living; and
- Ensures digital connectivity which is robust, dependable and future-proof.
An application for Planning Permission in Principle was recently lodged for Drumshoreland Garden Community and OPEN look forward to continuing to support and enable the 20-minute neighbourhood concept across our projects.