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Devonshire Gardens – transforming an old depot site into a green haven
The challenge: proving that Devonshire Gardens aligns with Cambridge’s local plan requirements
Devonshire Gardens aims to transform a brownfield depot site in Cambridge into a mixed-use community with a landscaped park. The three-acre site is currently a Travis Perkins builders’ yard. Opening the site will create a significant new area of public space, improve connectivity, and offer a green haven for local people in an area currently deficient in green space.
As part of the development’s planning application, Socius and Railpen needed a Sustainability Statement which covered all aspects of Devonshire Garden’s environmental impact. We were appointed to develop the Statement, proving that Devonshire Gardens matched the requirements of Cambridge’s local plan.
How we helped: developing the Sustainability Statement for Devonshire Gardens
To guide the development team in setting sustainability objectives, we undertook an analysis of local, county-wide and global needs using the lens of our One Planet Living® framework. The needs analysis helped us to identify what a truly sustainable development would look like in this location.
Based on the identified needs, we supported the team to incorporate features and actions in their design and planning work to respond to each of the set objectives. As part of this, we did several small research projects including:
- a ‘deep dive’ on what actions could be taken around sustainable food (looking at sourcing, surplus redistribution, and innovative onsite growing)
- briefing architects on less visually intrusive solar panels that are still efficient at generating electricity (enabling solar to be used on this site which is opposite a conservation area)
- briefing MEP engineers on short retention greywater systems (as water stress was identified as a priority issue but the site and budget could not support the equipment for large-scale greywater retention and treatment)
We then produced the scheme’s Sustainability Statement to show Cambridge's planning department how the scheme fulfils sustainability policies in the local plan, taking a more holistic view to include socio-economic aspects as well as the environment and energy.
We also developed a ‘Statement of Intent’ on sustainable food, as it was identified that most of the effective actions for food would be part of the operation, rather than the design. That statement outlines the vision and ideas for how spaces are likely to be used for food initiatives, as well as creating an open discussion of potential risks and pitfalls and how the project proposes to overcome them. To support this, we connected the project to local food charity Cambridge Sustainable Food and liaised with its leadership to understand potential mutually helpful approaches.
The impact: demonstrating how the scheme fulfils the sustainability policies in Cambridge’s local plan
As a result of having a strong planning application which demonstrated how the scheme aligned with the city’s local plan, Cambridge City Council unanimously approved the plans for Devonshire Gardens.
Due to start in 2023 and be completed in 2025, the scheme aims to deliver:
- Over 120,000 sq ft of modern, wellbeing-focused workspace
- 70 Build-to-Rent homes pepper-potted throughout, with no difference in quality and shared access to all services and amenities
- Community facilities including a creche, pavilion and flexible studios
- A landscaped public park featuring over 120 trees (of which 68 new trees), a variety of new plant species and a community food garden
- A majority car-free neighbourhood with new walkways and cycle paths
The scheme will also increase biodiversity by over 350%, and the new public park is key to reaching this target. The park and public circulation spaces will take up more than half of the site, and a varied planting design will support the addition of new habitats and incorporate edible plants and fruit trees.
The Statement of Intent that we developed demonstrates that Devonshire Gardens is uniquely confronting the issue of food, which is crucial for sustainability but often neglected by the built environment. Devonshire Gardens’ success in this area is reliant on having the right local partner so we identified the local organisation Cambridge Sustainable Food, which also endorsed the Statement of Intent.
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Culture and community
Half of the three-acre site will be a dedicated new public open space, open to the local community. The site will have a community pavilion at its heart, to be shaped by a local design competition.
Land and nature
The scheme aims to increase biodiversity by 357% through the creation of a new public park. The site will have over 1000 square meters of green roofs, 80 square meters of edible planting, six edible trees and extensive tree canopy, 491 square meters of raingarden beds with biodiverse planting, as well as hedgehog habitats, bug hotels and bird and bat boxes.
Rainwater will be collected and stored to help irrigate the edible planting and other green areas, minimising water demand and protecting the quality of precious water resources.
Travel and transport
Cycling will be encouraged as the primary form of travel with the provision of 545 overall cycle spaces, including over 20 accessible cargo bike spaces. These exemplar cycling facilities meet or exceed the requirements of the local plan and will target a Cycle Heart Rating. The site’s central location and proximity to the city centre and train station lends itself to being largely car-free and an electric car club will be established for those that need a car.
Zero carbon energy
Future buildings will be all-electric using a combination of on and off-site renewable sources. There will be no fossil fuel use on site, and it aims to achieve a 65.6% reduction in homes’ carbon emissions, compared to a 2013 Building Regulations compliant development (exceeding the 19% reduction required by Local Plan policy 28).