£370m timber neighbourhood plans revealed

Plans have been unveiled for the UK’s largest timber development, called The Phoenix.

The 700-home, mixed-use neighbourhood proposed for Lewes, East Sussex, would transform a 7.9 hectare brownfield site of a former foundry, called the Foundry Iron and Steelworks, into a development powered entirely by renewable energy.

It would use engineered structures and timber cassettes instead of concrete and steel. Buildings would be insulated by biobased fibres and embellished with other low-carbon and repurposed materials.

Developer Human Nature (Places), a business led by two former senior members of Greenpeace, is preparing a planning application to be submitted to the South Downs National Park Authority.

It estimates that the development – spread over 18 different blocks designed by 13 different architects – will cost around £370m.

Contracting work will be subdivided into a series of packages ranging from flood defence to site remediation, individual housing and other blocks and some turnkey solutions, a spokesperson told Construction News. None of the packages have been awarded yet.

Consultants from WSP and Arup, and engineers from companies including Expedition, Whitby Wood and Atelier Ten, are among those working on the project from its planning stages.

The developer also plans to manage a modern methods of construction production facility on site to help deliver components for most of the subsequent buildings – chiefly wall cassette panels to create the watertight envelope around the structural frame.

Human Nature CEO Jonathan Smales said in a statement: “By using engineered timber structure for buildings and other biomaterials, renewable energy infrastructures, co-mobility services, efficient and human-scale apartment blocks with shared facilities, beautiful streets and public spaces, abundant greenery, and new creative and circular economy enterprises, the Phoenix will be an exemplar of the actions needed to create a safe and, in many ways, far better world.”

Asked if there were any concerns about the cost and availability of timber for the scheme, a Human Nature spokesperson said it was “working closely with one of the biggest engineered timber suppliers in the world” and local foresters in Sussex and Kent to source the material.

Asked about the fire-safety performance of the town, she said that “the UK is lagging behind other countries when it comes to the use of structural timber”, citing the examples of the 25-storey Ascent MKE Building in Milwaukee, USA, and the 18-storey Mjøstårnet in Norway.

“We believe that, to meet net-zero targets, the use of timber in building is absolutely necessary – we have every belief that British construction can rise to the challenge of delivering timber structure developments,” she added.

“The mass of engineered timber makes it inherently fire-resistant due to the effects of charring, which dampens the spread of flame while retaining its structural stability in a way that steel does not. Timber elements will be encapsulated, i.e. covered by fire-resistant board, both internally and externally.”

The architects working on the project are: Adam Richards Architects, Al-Jawad Pike, Archio, Ash Sakula, Charles Holland, Human Nature, Material Cultures, Mae, Mole, Rabble, TDO.

The developer hopes to complete the project by 2030.

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