Hanham Hall, Bristol

The landscaping at this trailblazing housing scheme does far more than simply keep it looking good, Josephine Smit reports.

Hanham Hall was a trailblazer, designed to deliver homes that would be both desirable and sustainable while testing future Government aspirations for zero-carbon housing. While the project was in progress the Government revised its green housing policies and changed its definition of zero-carbon, but that in no way detracts from a scheme that has redefined sustainable living.

"We wanted it to create a ‘green’ community but one that was welcoming to everyone," explains James Lord, a partner at multidisciplinary consultancy HTA Design. "We wanted it to be a universally attractive scheme and then allow that to grow to become a great community."

Landscape is integral to the creation of that community. The development sits in the grounds of a former hospital near Bristol and the existing landscape has been respected and enhanced to create a lush, green setting that serves more than one purpose.


Housebuilder Barratt Homes and HTA won planning consent for the 187-home development in 2009. The scheme combines new private and affordable homes with the conversion of the most important existing building on the site, the grade II listed Hanham Hall, to a multipurpose community facility. More than a third of the 9ha site is dedicated to open space.

Prior to redevelopment, the site looked unpromising, says Lord. "It was reasonably distressed, hadn’t been used for a time and had a lot of hardstanding and disused structures that had to be demolished, like an incinerator chimney."

Image: © Tim Crocker

Development masterplan

LISTED HALL Respected An appropriate landscape setting has been created with long vistas while the formal lawn and tree-lined avenue have been reinstated.

NEW VISTA Buildings are offset on either side — key to sustainability and the community feeling.

WATER MANAGEMENT Rainwater is collected in a central bio-swale running along the new vista, then flows downhill to a retention pond from where it is discharged. This is part of an overall water management strategy for the site that includes rainwater recycling in homes and porous paving in mews and car-parking areas.

GREEN AMENITIES These include a village green, formal gardens, children’s play spaces, species-rich grassland meadows, glasshouses, allotments, apiary and orchard. "The feeling of landscape and public realm is incredibly generous," says Lord. Homes also have private gardens, verandahs or balconies. HTA fought to keep the retention pond unfenced and classed as an amenity. It has been made safe by the provision of marginal ledges around its perimeter.

This landscape has a serious job to do, Lord stresses. "It’s a functioning landscape — respecting heritage, providing amenity value and dealing with environmental issues. It is not only there to look good."

Existing trees have been retained as far as possible while two hedgerows crossing the site have been retained and repaired. New planting is predominantly native species — hawthorn, blackthorn, elder, oak, field maple and apple trees. Only a small number of common Mediterranean perennials have been used for front gardens, including lavender, verbena, acanthus, nepeta, alchemilla and euphorbia, which were chosen for their nectar-rich characteristics. Edibles such as sage, rosemary and chives were planted around the greenhouses.

The site’s buildings and grounds are managed and maintained by the residents, who all have shares in a community interest company. This means that revenue generated by amenities such as the allotments goes back into the community and helps to create a strong sense of neighbourliness. For example, residents empty their grass clippings into communal waste hoppers to provide compost for the allotments.

Home design and site layout have also played a big part in fostering community. Patio doors open onto a verandah and front garden, which flow into the public realm. "It means that people come home and sit in their front gardens on a summer evening and chat to their neighbours as they walk home from work," says Lord. "It has helped create a really thriving community."


The infrastructure was required to achieve a "very good" rating under the CEEQUAL scheme. It exceeded that, securing an "excellent" rating with a score of 96.6 per cent. The buildings were set high requirements under the Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM.

The green amenities are loved by residents and the allotments have been a big success. Hanham Hall has won a string of design awards but has not yet been recognised for its landscaping. "We are waiting to allow it to mature," says Lord. "The landscaping was installed in a relatively immature state."

HTA is now advising on how to adapt the homes’ timber sunscreens to take climbing plants, following a request from the residents. This engagement is an indication of the link between architect and the community, and of the community’s continuing aspirations for their new neighbourhood.


Lord says there are many lessons in the landscaping that can be reapplied to other projects:

- HTA sees further opportunities to integrate private front gardens and public realm.
- It has been important in demonstrating that a predominantly native scheme can be ornate and attractive. "This is a picturesque scheme using a palette of native plants," Lord points out.
- Natural water management is good value for money, says Lord. "It has been significantly cheaper than using engineered solutions and has provided amenity benefit."
- HTA’s landscape design adds value — providing attractive features such as the pond — helping the homes to command premium prices while the landscape serves many practical purposes. "Housebuilders and developers are accepting that landscape adds value to housing," says Lord. "This scheme has shown that a working landscape can also be extremely valuable to the people who are living there."

Project team  
Client Homes & Communities Agency and Barratt Homes, working with South Gloucestershire Council and Sovereign Housing Association
Architect, landscape architect, planning consultant and sustainability consultant
HTA Design
Engineering Arup/Phoenix

Landscape contractor TFN Landscapes

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