The Phoenix Project – building a five-minute neighbourhood for Lewes
To redevelop Lewes’ Phoenix Industrial Estate area, sustainable developers Human Nature are drawing on urban-planning principles being used in Paris, Barcelona and Berlin to create a neighbourhood built around people not cars.
Residents of Lewes will be familiar with the recent history of the Phoenix Industrial Estate and the failed attempts to redevelop it. When Human Nature acquired the site in April 2021 it was because we saw it as an opportunity to not only create good homes and jobs for the town, but to build a new type of neighbourhood that supports a more communal and sustainable way of living.
Mixed spaces, safe streets
Central to our plans is the principle of the five-minute neighbourhood, where most daily needs can be met within a short walk or cycle. This means the Phoenix will be truly mixed-use: made up of homes – of different types, sizes and price points (including designated affordable housing) – work and creative spaces, cafés, leisure facilities and communal green spaces, connected by safe and gentle streets.
The principle is our take on the 15-minute city, a phrase coined by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno, and inspired by urban planning critic Jane Jacobs, author of the classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It has grown in popularity since it was adopted by leading urban designers in the 1990s and latterly Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who has promised to pedestrianise large parts of the city, create a bike lane in every street by 2024, and stop the reliance on private cars.
Quality of life
When the likes of Jacobs and Jan Gehl, the Danish architect and urban planner, advanced the idea of places for people, not cars, the motivation was quality of life – the links between car emissions and climate were not yet understood. We now know that transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gases in the UK, producing 27% of our total emissions in 2019 – and that a switch to electric vehicles alone will be nowhere near enough to meet climate targets.
Today, there are cities across the world – including Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen and Ljubljana – where low-traffic zones are being advanced, with the idea of creating streets safe for walking, cycling and children playing, and where air pollution, a silent killer, is radically reduced. Increasingly, there are new developments planned around pedestrianised streets: from Merwede in Utrecht; Culdesac in Temple, Arizona; Viva in Gothenburg; and Eddington in Cambridge.
These movements, theories and precedents continue to influence our plans and the work of our mobility consultants WSP and Urban Movement as we move towards the submission of a planning application in May. We recognise, of course, that residents on the Phoenix will need car access – for both leisure and work – but we want to ensure that traffic is kept to a minimum around the neighbourhood. Key to the success of the scheme, therefore, will be catching and parking the cars in a Mobility Hub, accessed from the Phoenix Causeway at the southern tip of the site.
This building will include a parcel and freight hub, parking spaces and car share and hire, accessed through a mobility app, which will allow residents to book vehicles, including cars and electric bikes and scooters. We are also exploring how an e-cargo service, based in the Mobility Hub, can deliver goods and parcels across the neighbourhood and to the wider town. Although there will be Blue Badge parking, drop-off and loading spaces, the Phoenix won’t be a neighbourhood made up of driveways, carports and on-street parking – this valuable space will instead allow for Life between Buildings: spaces for convivial, shared living and private, defensible threshold for each a home.
New cycle route
Another major element of the neighbourhood will be a new cycle route that connects to Eastgate running past the Old Soap Factory and through the centre to a new pedestrian bridge across to Malling. This, along with bike racks, storage and a repair shop, will help us foster a bike culture on the Phoenix – which might then extend across the town. We’re keenly aware that in an ideal world, the rest of Lewes would be more bike friendly and we will work with others in town, such as Cycle Lewes and Lewes Living Streets, to this end.
What we’re proposing at the Phoenix is a departure from how homes and neighbourhoods have been built in this country for decades, in a way that is better for community, health and the planet. Moving away from a reliance on privately owned vehicles may seem like a radical idea but cars are parked for 95% of the time: sharing them, providing a mixed-use, five-minute neighbourhood, cycling and walking more, are simply common sense.
For more information about the Phoenix Project, see here.