A recreational area of open green space in a new housing development has been legally protected in perpetuity by the Fields in Trust (FIT) charity, after a landmark deal was made with developer HAB Housing and Kings Worthy Parish Council. But how was it achieved and could it be the first of many?
Buyers at Lovedon Fields in Kings Worthy near Winchester in Hampshire will move into a development that features a large area of public space, with allotments, a biodiverse country park area, wild flower meadows, play areas, a running circuit, a cycle path for children, a community orchard area and a village green, designed by BD Landscape Architecture and built by Hillier Landscapes and Peach Ecology.
The public open space came about through the local plan part 2 process. The parish had to allocate a site for between 30 and 50 homes. It said it would grant the full 50-home development to the HAB proposal if the landowner agreed to sell extra land and the developer agreed to hand it over to the local parish council as recreational space, to complement existing facilities in the adjoining Eversley Park.
Kevin McCloud, founder and managing director of HAB - which stands for "Happiness, Architecture, Beauty" - says: "It was one of those nice situations where you can align all the priorities."
Along with handing over the freehold, HAB agreed to a £100,000 endowment fund for the parish to invest. It is expected that this will cover maintenance costs of the land, which is designed as a meadow area that should only need one or two cuts a year.
"We also wanted to put some restrictive covenants on the land. That's generally the thing one does when you pass on land," says McCloud, who presents Channel 4's Grand Designs. "We wanted a belt-and-braces approach and to try and make sure it was protected in perpetuity so I went off looking for mechanisms. It took me a while and then I came across FIT."
McCloud spoke to FIT development manager for the Winchester area Terry Housden and together they drew up a "deed of dedication" under contract law for the land. This specifies that the council needs FIT consent if it wants to make any changes to the land. It can sell it but only with the deed attached. "They become a guardian of the land. You have this charitable body which is the arbiter," says McCloud.
Housden says going down the FIT route is more flexible than the other main method in England, registering the land as a town and village green under the Commons Act 2006.
"With our methods, much more is possible in terms of the future. Town and village green registration is very restrictive. The flexibility that we offer was quite attractive to HAB Housing," he says. "We agree what is intended and future use. For example, if it is a public playing field and recreation field, then the landowner has the freedom to change the recreational use so long as it falls within the definition of a public field or a recreation ground."
So this means that a decision could be made to turn a tennis court into a multi-use games area in the future if that better suits the community, for example, or building a block for changing rooms, something that is not allowed on land registered as a town or village green.
One step further
McCloud decided to go one step further and develop the land into a multi-purpose area for the community to use, which aligns with his and his company's sustainability principles. HAB aims to create developments that, as it explains on its website "respect the local context and biodiversity; are strongly rooted in history, landscape and the community; and are sustainable, beautiful and a pleasure to live in".
It appreciates the value of landscaping, has an in-house landscape architect, incorporates SuDS elements including porous paving and swales and always plants fruit trees alongside its development's streets.
This has been an extra cost for HAB but it has added a key selling feature to the development. Research repeatedly shows that properties next or near to a park sell for higher than similar properties nearby, or the national average.
For McCloud a finished, landscaped space is a far better selling point than an empty plot of land. "It's an important thing, particularly if you orientate the house overlooking a piece of land, that's going to make a difference," he says. "It's very difficult to put a value on it. Very often it's how quickly you can sell the houses. Selling well and selling quickly is almost as important as the absolute value. I'd say there is a marginal value gain." But he adds: "The corporate benefits are priceless."
Lovedon Fields conforms to FIT's latest guidelines on the amount of recreational provision needed in housing developments, Guidance for Outdoor Sport & Play, published in 2015, a set of guidelines first published in 1930 under the "Six Acre Standard".
Working with FIT has advantages for developers. Alongside advice and help in drawing up the correct legal protection for the land, the charity gives ongoing advice and expertise on planning matters, technical issues and funding as well as fundraising for the land it has helped to protect. It has given £3.1m in improvement grants to FIT sites since 2012.
This is the first time FIT has made such a deal with a developer and it would like to make it somewhat of an exemplar, in the hope that it will encourage other developers to follow suit. "This is quite a unique scenario for us," says Housden. "It's something we're looking to do much more of. We'll be going out to developers. We're looking to use this as a case study in terms of how successful the partnership can be. When they walk away from the development they know that the land will be there in perpetuity and won't be sold off in 10 years' time.
"It comes down to the individual developer. I'm hoping that the example of HAB Housing will alert other developers to the value of providing green space, and quality green space. You're trying to build a community and sustain a community. These spaces are the green hearts of these new communities.
"From a marketing and PR point of view the fact that developers are creating green spaces and protecting them is going to be attractive to new house owners. I've been contacted on numerous occasions by people looking to purchase property near to a green space. They want to know if the land is protected. It gives potential buyers some confidence and, potentially, people are prepared to pay extra for it."
Housden recognises that this is not something that can just simply happen overnight. "It's very new but it's a good model and it's something we can demonstrate has a strong potential to work," he points out. "We very much hope that other developers come on board."
McCloud is cautious. "To me this is an unusual set of circumstances," he says. "Every site is unique. The problem is housebuilders don't see them as unique. What this needs is some wider thought. This is all very interesting and it's good. How can we apply that to the rest of the country?" He adds: "Open spaces for us are key to successful place making. One of the things we are increasingly interested in really is how do you have multifunctional spaces? Can you have a business based in the green space? Can you have more formalised leisure stuff?
"If we're all looking for the next Lovedon Fields, we'll be looking for a long time. I'd love to find another one of those - it would be an absolute dream for us. We'll certainly be looking but there was lots of serendipity. We're not expecting to do too many more of those to be honest."
Easing the funding crisis
But McCloud suggests that the development and protection model could provide a way to ease the local authority funding crisis. "One interesting thing is local authorities wanting to build on the edge of parks, particularly where they are too big and too baggy and a bit intimidating. The problem is locals see it as the thin edge of the wedge. They think that firstly it will be this scrappy bit of park that nobody uses and that nobody will miss but then it will be this other bit of the park that everybody loves."
However, if local authorities brought in FIT and protected the rest of the park and green space within the development at the time of sale, that would give local residents peace of mind, he says.
"I'm interested in how mechanisms can be used to gain trust, so you release more land on the basis that it will be protected. I think people want to see proper planning. They want to know if all this land going to be built on or will it be green in the future. Proper planning and proper protection, it's a really good thing. I think it helps people make a judgement on what to buy and how much to pay."
FIT has been legally safeguarding playing fields, play space, recreation grounds and other open spaces since its formation as the National Playing Fields Association in 1925. It currently protects around 2,600 sites covering nearly 12,000ha throughout the UK.
Research Green space mark-up
2014 Nationwide published figures suggest an 18% premium for a property in a national park and an 8% premium for one within 5km of a national park.
2016 HouseSimple.com finds having a park nearby adds an average of 19% to a property's asking price - an average premium of £41,000.
2017 eMoov.co.uk looks at the price of properties near 13 of England's best parks and finds that they are 67% more expensive than the English average of £282,138.
Comment Enlightened schemes
Peter Neal, parks consultant and author of both Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) State of UK Public Parks reports:
"HLF's recent State of UK Public Parks report highlighted that the funding and management of parks and open spaces is becoming increasingly varied. Lovedon Fields looks set to become an attractive illustration of this trend.
"Enlightened development, appropriate quantity and protection in perpetuity are significant achievements. Add to this committed and creative management with sustainable funding over the long term and you have a model that can unlock some of the considerable challenges currently facing our parks and open spaces."
Housing National Planning Policy Framework and open space provision
What does the National Planning Policy Framework have to say about open space provision in housing developments?
"Access to high-quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and recreation can make an important contribution to the health and well-being of communities. Planning policies should be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the needs for open space, sports and recreation facilities and opportunities for new provision.
"The assessments should identify specific needs and quantitative or qualitative deficits or surpluses of open space and sports and recreational facilities in the local area. Information gained from the assessments should be used to determine what open space, sports and recreational provision is required.
"Local communities, through local and neighbourhood plans, should be able to identify for special protection green areas of particular importance to them. By designating land as 'Local Green Space' local communities will be able to rule out new development other than in very special circumstances. Identifying land as Local Green Space should therefore be consistent with the local planning of sustainable development and complement investment in sufficient homes, jobs and other essential services. Local Green Spaces should only be designated when a plan is prepared or reviewed, and be capable of enduring beyond the end of the plan period.
"Local Green Space designation will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space. It should only be used where:
-The green space is in reasonably close proximity to the community it serves.
-The green area is demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance - for example because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (playing field), tranquillity or richness of its wildlife.
-The green area is local in character and not an extensive tract of land. Achieving sustainable development.
"Local policy for managing development within a Local Green Space should be consistent with policy for green belts."