The Phoenix: a bold new adventure in sustainable places

Following the recent exhibition detailing plans to develop Lewes’ Phoenix Industrial Estate. Anthony Pearce of developers Human Nature explains the features set to make ‘The Phoenix’ the most sustainable new neighbourhood in Europe.


Sir Patrick Vallance, the government chief scientific adviser, has argued that “nothing short of transforming society will avert climate catastrophe”.

At Human Nature, we believe this transformation of society starts with how and where we live – by designing and redesigning places that are inherently sustainable, where it is easy and enjoyable to lead communal, low-impact lives.

We see the Phoenix in Lewes as an opportunity to do just that, creating a benchmark scheme that acts as an exemplar for future developments both at home and aboard. Designed to prioritise people over cars, powered entirely by renewable energy and built with upcycled, low-carbon and even carbon-positive materials, it promises to be the most sustainable new neighbourhood in Europe. This is how.

Low-carbon materials

Local architect Duncan Baker-Brown has spoken of ‘mining the Anthropocene’ as a way to reduce the built environment’s enormous impact on the environment. At the Phoenix, we will determine which existing buildings are fit for retainment; which are suitable for deconstruction and reconstruction; and which should be recycled before construction begins.

There are four buildings on site that will be retrofitted: The Soap Factory will become a skateboarding and bouldering centre; The Foundry Workshop will provide space for makers, with a taproom on its upper level; The Every Hall will house a community canteen, co-working spaces and wintergarden; while Phoenix House will continue to be used as the offices of Human Nature. These alone represented a saving of approximately 1,800 tons of embodied carbon.

A full audit will be carried out to determine which materials on site can be reused – such as steel trusses and cladding, brick walls and buttressing – in the new development. For example, it is likely that our Thomas Paine footbridge, which will connect the centre of the Phoenix to Malling, can be engineered from upcycled steel from the site – recast using renewable energy. What can’t be used can be recycled either as ‘cut and fill’ aggregate (to level and landscape the site) or reconstituted as bricks, with nothing destined for landfill.

We intend to use as many low embodied-carbon, locally sourced and natural materials as possible, from chalk and flint to Sussex timber, hemp and lime plaster. We will also utilise glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT) as a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel in structures, a practice increasingly popular in Europe but yet to be fully embraced in the UK because of building regulations and the absence, as yet, of a CLT production facility. We are also aiming to create one of the first zero carbon-emission construction sites with a fleet of entirely electric or other zero-carbon construction vehicles.


Waste and energy

We must rethink how we consume and discard items, but incremental change on an individual level will not be enough. Appropriate facilities and services must be established in a place from the outset: at the Phoenix that means providing excellent recycling, waste management and composting facilities on site. The latter provides a good example of a circular economy: food waste will be composted, providing fertilisation for urban gardening farming, where food is grown for the neighbourhood canteen, cafés and restaurant. We are providing spaces for residents to set up their own ventures focused on upcycling, repair and reuse: what can’t be fixed or upcycled will be sorted on site for recycling, with only the residual material collected by the council.

We also intend to implement a neighbourhood-wide energy system and grid – generated through rooftop photovoltaics (PV) and by off-site renewable energy facilities, with ground and water source heat pumps  for heat generation. The overall strategy is informed by site-specific climatic analysis for passive, low-energy comfort conditioning, ventilation and daylighting, including analyses of temperature, humidity, solar energy and other factors that affect design. In these ways the buildings themselves will be highly efficient.

Low-traffic streets and shared living

In 2021, a report commissioned by Oxfam concluded that in order to limit global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels every person on Earth will need to limit their impact to an average of 2.3 tonnes of C02 per year by 2030. This can only be achieved if we affect behavioural change – challenging how we consume, how we travel and what we eat.

The Phoenix will promote the idea of shared living: of space, amenities and ideas. This is not just for the planet, but for community wellbeing: research points to the fact that social living alleviates loneliness and improves emotional health. As well as an abundance of shared space in community centres, courtyards, play areas, gardens and green roofs, a culture of sharing will extend to energy, amenities, and a library of things (where tools and utensils can be borrowed).

As we have written before for Transition Town Lewes, the Phoenix will prioritise people over cars, creating streets safe for children to play in. A five-minute neighbourhood, where most daily needs can be met within a short walk, will encourage residents to make fewer car journeys, instead travelling by foot or bike. An electric car club and hire, operated from the Mobility Hub, will encourage residents to move away from a reliance on private vehicles. Given cars account for just over 18% of UK emissions – this will likely have a greater impact than anything else we could do.

As individual components, there is nothing here that has not been done before – there is no great leap into the unknown. But no new neighbourhood has brought all of these elements together to create somewhere with sustainability at its core. The Phoenix will prove that all this is possible – and, we hope, inspire a change in how we live.

Learn more at


So how can you support us?

We’re hard at work putting together our outline planning application ahead of a summer submission to the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA). If you would like to find out more about the project, please sign up to our regular newsletter where we’ll be sharing details of focus groups, Q&A sessions and site tours, as well as the most effective ways of lending your support.

In the meantime, if you like our plans, please spread the word – and tell friends, colleagues and your local representatives why you want to see the project built.



  1. Christopher Lawson

    Really creative thinking for our times.

  2. Anne Duke

    Please advise percentage of affordable homes proposed for this development. Apologies if I have missed this information. That’s got to be a priority for any new housing scheme surely?


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