Retrofitting a Home Zone in the Dings, Bristol, 2004 to 2006The Dings, Bristol 2004 to 2006
New housing development in the Dings area of Bristol was accompanied by a number of other enhancements that offered a tangible benefit to existing residents. The creation of a Home Zone provided a solution to existing car-related problems and applying common design features to the street scene helped to blend the old and new residential areas, reducing scope for resentment from the existing communities.
- Useful features of HomeZones
- Continuity and improvement: new and old settlements
- Benefits of proper resident engagement
- Developing effective partnerships
- Delivery though planning consents
Home Zones are based on the Dutch concept of ‘woonerf' (living yard), where a group of streets are designed to meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists rather than solely drivers. They have become popular in several Northern European countries, and usually involve introducing a level of uncertainty for car users to encourage them to reduce their speed. Typical features of the streetscape include removing any distinction between the road and pavement, and using paving materials and street furniture to make the whole street feel like pedestrian area.
Home Zones can be a solution for areas that suffer from car-related problems, as the Dings in Bristol did. This area had become geographically isolated following the decline of the traditional industries in the area. The seven streets that made up the Dings had become a residential island surrounded by little activity. The proximity of the estate to the Temple Mead train station had, however, led to it being used as a free car park by some commuters. People had been seen eating their breakfasts in their cars early in the morning, keen to grab a free parking space. Oxford Street, running along the south side of the housing had become a rat-run, with cars travelling along it well above the speed limit. This was particularly dangerous as the street separates the houses from a small local park.
Turning the area into a Home Zone has helped to mitigate this behaviour and the Dings has returned to a place that its residents can enjoy living in without this disturbance and intrusion from commuters.
One of the particular strengths of the Home Zone initiative in the Dings was its ability to bring a visual sense of continuity between the homes already there and the new developments built around them. The same paving materials have been used throughout and the new streets threading through the new housing continue the line of the previously existing ones. The scheme also included placing a post box on one of the streets in the Dings, partly to give new residents a reason to walk into the existing neighbourhood.
Developing effective partnerships
The Dings falls within Bristol's New Deal for Communities (NDC) area and also the South West Development Agency's ‘Temple Quarter' regeneration area. This scheme, still ongoing, had seen the redevelopment of the immediate surroundings of the Temple Mead train station, providing a number of office buildings along with a small number of new shops and restaurants. Areas to the north of the train station, immediately surrounding the Dings were identified for residential development, and the land bordering the existing houses was sold to Barratt Homes who have since built a series of townhouses and apartment blocks.
At this time Bristol City Council was actively working to reduce congestion across Bristol. The council's Highways Department had already been involved with a number of Home Zone projects in different neighbourhoods, acknowledging their potential to reduce car use and improve the quality of the local built environment. In collaboration with the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, the local authority had been able to secure funding through the European Union's VIVALDI (Visionary and Vibrant Actions through Local transport Demonstration Initiatives) project. At this point the local authority brought together three members of staff to work together in overseeing a number of Home Zone projects in the city. They worked with Sustrans to instigate and maintain the community consultation process in the Dings, which was integral to the design of the Home Zone.
Later in the project extra funding for the Home Zone was secured from the NDC. This complemented its own initiative to improve the park to the south of Oxford Street. Sustrans also secured arts funding to further bolster the project budget.
Perhaps because of its previous relative isolation, the Dings estate already had a strong sense of community and an active and enthusiastic neighbourhood watch group. Sustrans worked with them at their regular monthly meetings, as well as through a number outdoor events, newsletter-surveys and door-to-door, to consult with the community and collectively draw up a palette of features and materials for the Home Zone. These discussions resulted in different streets being paved in different materials according to the wishes of the residents. Continuity of design was maintained in other ways by using a uniform style to indicate parking bays, and by using pieces of public art throughout the area to enhance its sense of place. Computer-generated images of potential designs for the streetscape, developed by Sustrans and Bristol City Council, were used at the regular community meetings to help residents visualise proposals.
Commitment to real resident engagement can deliver huge benefits to everyone involved, including residents and developers, and it can improve long term sustainability of communities. In the Dings project, the personal commitment of one member of the developer's staff to attending the monthly residents' association meetings (even beyond the completion of the project) secured a strong relationship which proved particularly important in reducing the frustrations of the existing community when the building work affected their quality of life. Over the course of the development Barratt Homes did not receive a single letter of complaint despite the proximity of their construction site to the existing housing, and the highways contractors were regularly offered tea by residents during the course of the works. The Barratt staff member involved admitted that his experiences of community consultation in the Dings had changed his own personal perception of the importance of working with residents. Rather than something that has to be done to satisfy planning regulations, he now feels it is integral to delivering developments successfully.
This interaction between the developer, the residents and Sustrans brought about some significant design changes to the new housing along Barton Road, which now faces some of the older housing across the street. The front doors of the new homes were initially planned to face inwards to the apartment block's courtyard, but now open onto the residential road. The height of the block was also reduced by a storey.
Particular features of the Dings Home Zone
- Use of paving materials to distinguish parking places, indicated by a change of colour and a border of lighter coloured paving bricks.
- The post box for the area positioned in the middle of an existing street to give new residents a reason to walk through the estate. Believed to be the only post box sitting unprotected in the highway.
- A mixture of streets furnished with cobbles and pale terracotta paving, determined by the wishes of the residents of each street.
- Low planters built using re-used kerbstones and four new street trees
- Use of a Sustainable Urban Drainage System to enhance the drainage of shared surfaces.
- A community arts programme, which employed artists and a writer to work with residents to develop the public art, which has been integrated into the fabric of the streetscene.
- A five-way junction with no indicated priority rules at the edge of the estate, rather than adding a roundabout.
- A new community garden area on a patch of land previously used for fly-tipping.
- New seating near park entrance.
- A new cycle and walkway through the site linking to the pre-existing National Cycle Network and the mainline rail station.
- Renewed street lighting, including up-lighters placed in the street's surface to highlight trees.
- Burial of chaotic overhead services cabling.
- Promotion of non-car travel choices including cycle training.
- Inclusion of a Car Club for short-term car rental.
Making the Home Zone a reality
The Home Zone project in the Dings in Bristol had two distinct parts to it. Part one involved retrofitting the existing streets, which was undertaken by Sustrans and the City Council. Part two involved extending the design language of the retrofitted area through into the new housing development. Barratt Homes were required to continue the same palette of materials through their housing development as a condition of their planning permission. This included designing new streets to line up with those already there to ensure that lines of sight continued through both the old and new housing.
The inclusion of the Home Zone's features into the new development added significant costs for Barratt Homes, particularly in term of increased consultants' fees. However it has also brought some commercial benefits for them in marketing their properties as family-friendly areas, where children can play on the street. The new developments do not have the capacity for a parking space for each unit, and the Home Zone has enabled them to market this feature as a positive aspect of their homes. The developer has reported that the new housing has been popular and has sold well.
Successful aspects of the Home Zone scheme in the Dings
- The Home Zone was a practical initiative that was able to offer something of value to an existing community when a new development was taking place close by.
- The design of the Home Zone mitigated the visual contrast between the older housing and new development, helping the area to be more visually cohesive than it might otherwise have been.
- By placing certain items of street furniture, particularly the post box, in the existing streets, new residents have been given a reason to walk through the estate.
- The existing residents were comfortable approaching the developer at times when the building work affected their quality of life. The developer in turn was able to quickly improve the situation. This came about because a member of Barratt Home's staff was committed to attending regular residents' association meetings on the estate and forming a good working relationships with many of the local people.
- Barratt Homes have been able to market the Home Zone as a positive attribute of their new homes, particularly for young families who may want to live in an area where the streets are safer for their children.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests crime and anti-social behaviour in the area has dropped, though there may be no specific link between this and the change to the Dings' streetscape.
Challenges for repeating a similar scheme elsewhere
- Home Zones can be expensive. The building work in the Dings cost £1 million and the design and consultation fees were around £600,000. Bristol City Council Highways Department relied on external funding for their Home Zones because it was not possible for them to justify spending such a large portion of their overall budget on a small geographical area.
- The original plan at the Dings had been to institute a resident parking permit scheme once the Home Zone had been completed. Local residents were balloted on this and turned it down, perhaps because of the fee it would incur. This means that the area is still used by non-residents for parking, though significantly less than it was previously. This causes problems for some residents with cars parked in non-designated spaces outside their front doors .
- The Dings scheme worked well because there already existed an active and engaged group of residents in the area. Bristol City Council's Highways Department team have worked on Home Zone schemes in other areas, where the fact that neighbouring streets could end up looking very different led to a degree of division and animosity in the local community.
Transferable lessons for new communities
In the future, new settlements will either be extensions of already inhabited areas or might have smaller pockets of existing housing nearby. The most successful of these developments will be able to offer existing communities some tangible added benefit.
The built environment can be extremely important in enhancing a community's quality of life. Housing estates should not be dominated by cars and roads, but must be places that are safe for children, pedestrians and cyclists if the local community are to be encouraged to interact.
Design features that extend through older housing into new housing can help the both areas feel more connected. Placing street furniture in new or older developments will encourage people to walk between them.
The potential to include features of the Home Zone concept in new developments is enormous. However such schemes are more expensive than a traditional streetscape and should therefore be a requirement of the planning process rather than left to individual developers to introduce.
Meaningful communication between developers and local residents can dramatically reduce the upset and frustrations people might feel when living near to developments. This can only be done through real commitment on the part of the developer to attend meetings, listen to local people and to be willing to compromise.
Expensive works to enhance a few streets in a neighbourhood but which do not benefit other existing neighbours can potentially cause friction between residents. Such works are best reserved for discrete communities.
For more information about the Home Zone at the Dings see: Sustrans