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CASE STUDY: SHERFORD, PLYMOUTH
Sherford is a planned new settlement, located just over 6km from Plymouth. It will comprise 4,000 dwellings, and potentially more in future years. The community will include a primary and secondary school, high street retail, health centre, pool and spa, various community facilities, park, open spaces and other associated facilities. The Princes Foundation ran an Enquiry by Design in 2004 to help shape the emerging masterplan.
The developers submitted a planning application to South Hams District Council (the lead authority for the application) and Plymouth City Council in 2006, and again in 2008. Both Councils considered and conditionally approved the application in 2008.
Towards Sustainable Travel
The Plymouth city area has a UK-average proportion of journeys to work by car (62%) but relatively short journeys to work (9% over 10km), and, hence, relatively low transport CO2 emissions per capita at 1.1 tonnes per person. South Hams is much more car dependent. So, although achieving sustainable travel behaviour at Sherford would represent a change from the current travel patterns in terms of car mode share, there is potential to continue the patterns of relative containment achieved in Plymouth itself.
Sherford is conceived as an extension to Plymouth rather than a standalone site however it has been labelled a ‘new community’ to indicate that it is related to, but separate from Plymouth. Sherford is perceived as a complement to growth within the Plymouth urban area, but offering a distinct housing choice. As such, Devon County Council and South Hams District Council have chosen to meet “rural” housing demand by what is essentially an urban extension to Plymouth rather than as more dispersed development in the countryside.
At full build-out, the new community is expected to house 12,000 people in 5,500 dwellings. An isolated settlement of that size would be unlikely to exhibit any level of self containment. However, integration with the Plymouth urban area has the potential to help develop short and public transport-based trips. A high quality public transport (HQPT) system is planned to/from Plymouth. This involves a frequent bus service (12 buses per hour) from a park-and-ride facility to Plymouth town centre with 3 stops along Sherford’s ‘main street’. Buses will have priority at busy intersections but will be not generally be segregated from other traffic.
Density can be an important factor in reducing car use in terms of both mode share and distance travelled. Transport energy consumption and CO2 emissions are generally lower at higher densities, and higher densities lead to greater scope for viable public transport services. Although they are not incompatible, the sustainable transport benefits of higher densities must be balanced against urban design and quality of life considerations.
The Sherford new community will be built at minimum densities of 35-60 dwelling units per hectare (dph), with the highest density areas adjacent to local centres and along the main streets. A map of differential densities is included in the Sherford Planning Application (p.88) and reproduced opposite. The Sherford New Community Area Action Plan calls for overall density to average 40-50 dph. The developer’s planning application does not support overall net densities above 50 dph as this level begins to require apartment-style housing with communal parking areas and no direct outdoor access from homes. This type of housing is not envisioned for Sherford.
Complementary measures will be necessary to support a change in travel behaviour relative to the surrounding area. For example, a park-and-ride facility with at least 1,000 spaces is associated with the HQPT system – although the ready availability of low-cost parking in Plymouth may reduce the attractiveness of this option for commuters.
The location of key facilities such that they are accessible by sustainable modes is a key component in encouraging sustainable transport. At Sherford, internal provision of facilities to meet residents’ daily and weekly needs has been carefully planned with the explicit aim of discouraging external trips. Cycle paths and pavement design further encourage sustainable modes for short trips. However, access to sub-regional key facilities and employment centres in areas other than Plymouth town centre will be difficult by modes other than private car due to the development location.
The Plymouth Local Development Framework identifies new district centres to accommodate key facilities that serve (and generate employment for) large areas of the city. In particular, the new western regional centre is located close to the rail network and at the intersection of two strategic roads.
The Sherford Planning Application provides a good example of contemporary best practice in neighbourhood design and street layout, influenced by the Princes Foundation Enquiry by Design process in 2004. The main street that will serve both ‘place’ and ‘link’ functions. Traffic is dispersed throughout the new community but residential roads are less direct so as to discourage through traffic. More direct cycle links are provided in these cases. . The Sherford Planning Application includes a generous supply of car parking within the development – 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit – and this level is intentionally applied given the aspiration for higher end housing.
Some of the good practice in the Sherford development was supported by effective working processes, including:
Cross-Disciplinary and Cross-Authority Working
A strong policy context provided the framework for developing the planning strategy and application. The precedence for the Sherford development was set in the Regional Spatial Strategy (South West Regional Assembly, Draft 2006) and Devon Structure Plan (Devon County Council, 2004), and worked up through the South Hams Local Development Framework (South Hams District Council, Core Strategy, 2006) and Plymouth Local Development Framework (Plymouth City Council, 2007), supported by the Local Transport Plans.
The local authorities (South Hams and Plymouth) have demonstrated good practice in working in a cross disciplinary and organisational manner. The Plymouth LDF team, for example, includes planners and transport planners, and there is some cross-authority working. The local authorities also maintain a good working relationship with the Sherford developer (Red Tree). Practitioners believed these working mechanisms produced “noticeably higher quality outputs”.
Growth point status has led to a greater level of funding for Sherford through Growth Funding Allocations, however this funding is usually applicable to capital projects only, and was viewed as a “drop in the ocean” as to what was required. In terms of transport, for example, resource constraints meant it was only possible to develop one major scheme at a time within Plymouth. Similar resource issues affect the level of investment on offer, hence LRT is not being considered for the Plymouth area, only bus-based schemes. The tariff approach introduced through the Plymouth LDF will mean that new residential development will need to provide nearly £4,000 per unit.