Why we keep existing trees in our masterplans and how they add value to new developments
This is the story of three oak trees that I have known for nearly 50 years.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, three trees (The Trinity) were part of field
boundary and hedgerow. The sort of trees one would walk past on autumn
blackberry picking expeditions and hardly even notice.
Just look at them now! In all their majestic autumn colour, creating a
magnificent gateway to the beautiful linear park at Beaulieu, Chelmsford. I
visited them again today as I used to at the age of eleven or twelve when
picking blackberries and rambling was a Sunday treat for us at New Hall School.
They seemed happy to me and they are certainly healthy and well cared for.
Their surroundings have changed from agricultural fields to a huge and
impressive residential development by Countryside Properties with (so far)
a primary and a secondary school, a neighbourhood centre, contemporary
housing by renowned architects including Gardner Stewart and Tate Hindle
and the fabulous, award winning landscaped gardens by Randall Thorpe. www.randallthorpe.co.uk
So, how did these three trees survive the bulldozers?
It was all down to the original Concept Masterplan by Andrew Martin
Associates and the subsequent designers who developed the detail of the
masterplan as well as all those involved in the delivery of this development.
Even before any drawings were done, the Countryside Properties Strategic
team, of which I was part, carried out a detailed site assessment which
included identifying views and vistas, landscape character, hedgerows and
trees – all as one would expect. I remember the team approaching ‘The
Trinity’ and we all agreed that these three trees must be retained and
incorporated into the design because they already formed a natural
gateway at the end of a field track from what was then Belstead Farm. Their
particular alignment and combined canopy formed a beautiful triple arch
which we all recognised as a significant and potentially valuable feature
that might be woven into the masterplan.
Set out below is the Vision Statement for Beaulieu, written before any
detailed design work began:
‘Beaulieu, on the north eastern edge of Chelmsford, will be a new urban quarter with its own unique identity, rich heritage and links to the past. With New Hall and its estate parkland at the centre of the development and a network of mature hedgerows, meadows and woodlands permeating throughout the built environment, heritage and landscape will provide the backdrop to the new development.
The three farms – Lodge Farm, Belstead Farm and Bulls Lodge Farm – that once served New Hall provide opportunities to root the development in its location, respect the historical value and provide meaningful reference points within Beaulieu. The farms and/or their settings are connected by landscape corridors, hedges and ditches and will be connected visually by creating long and short views and vistas. In this way a network of existing features is maintained and protected. Overlaid on this network will be a network of new interconnected urban spaces and new landscapes.
These networks form the distinctive and unique framework within which five strategic landscape zones will sit. These zones (formal gardens, informal parkland, tree avenues, meadows and woodland hamlets) each relate to existing landscape features.
Beaulieu will be a place of inspirational architecture – a result of the combination of contextual influences, an understanding of everyday life and innovative design that can create a fresh new contemporary architecture that is respectful, lasting and relevant today.’
Some years ago I worked on the masterplan of a huge regeneration project
where families needed to be decanted from their homes and temporarily
re-housed whilst the area was regenerated. The families were then moved
back into new, but very different looking accommodation on the same site.
During the public consultation one of the residents requested that we keep
the two large maples on the site so that her children could have a point of
reference throughout the whole ordeal, could recognise the place when
then came back and would have a reminder of their early years there.
These trees were an important part of their day to day life before, during
and after the regeneration of their neighbourhood.
Nowadays we recognise the importance of landscape-led masterplans,
unlike the model village Port Sunlight, created by the Lever Brothers in
1888 to accommodate their factory workers. The story goes that when
Willian Hesketh Lever first visited the site and found a small stream and
other existing landscape features, he described them as “an impertinence”
that would have to be removed so that the masterplan could be laid out in
accordance with his vision.
Retaining trees in a masterplan or detailed residential layout, not only adds
value to new homes (which are generally more desirable and quicker to
sell) and helps create landscape and ecological frameworks, but also
preserves those connections with the past. All highly valuable assets. In the
particular case of ‘The Trinity’ it is the link to the past that I find most
valuable of all.
And what if trees really can communicate? I am sure they would say ‘Thank
You! – We’re loving the new view’
Urban Design is the art of ‘Making Places’, using the design of buildings,
groups of buildings, spaces, landscapes and features. Good Urban design is
essential if we want to create successful, sustainable places where people
want to live and work.