West Park Garden Village
The original site at West Park has already set the scene for well-considered development within a matrix of planned open spaces. West Park Garden Village should be considered as the completing element of this development so that the overall settlement will form a distinctive triangular character area to the north west of Darlington, bounded by the line of the A1 Motorway to the western boundary.
Trees and Hedgerows
West Park Garden Village site lies to the west of the West Park development on farmland which was previously occupied by two farms, the large one to the north being Mount Pleasant Farm (arable) and the smaller one in the south being Stag House Farm (pasture). The farmland has retained much of the original field pattern, marked by hedgerows of varying quality. Some of the hedgerows are clearly very old and have developed into lines of trees, while others are lower and have gaps between them.
Some of these have been removed to allow field expansion particularly in the arable areas but many are present, and one hedge in the northern part of the site has been identified as an ancient, species-rich hedge. Therefore, a key design principle for the development is to retain hedges and associated ditches wherever possible in order to keep an element of the farmland character and to maintain the valuable assets hedges provide including wildlife routes, navigation lines for bats, and much needed landscape character.
Inevitably, roads and routes will need to cross the hedges so some removals will be required but these should be designed to cross in weaker or gap prone areas, where possible. There are a number of existing trees on site which will be retained, where possible, including a group of magnificent, mature oaks which could form the focal point for a village green overlooked by houses.
Green Infrastructure and SuDS
The land is largely flat and many of the hedgerows have drainage ditches running parallel. Water management has been identified from the start as a key issue to be designed into the development to ensure a sustainable and successful approach to site drainage.
In accordance with best practice the site is designed around the principle of ‘Green Infrastructure’ (GI). Existing drainage ditches will be combined with new swales and attenuation ponds, and linked together within a network of green corridors to provide permeable routes not only for water but for wildlife and people.
This will accord with the principles laid out in Darlington’s Green Infrastructure Strategy (2013) which includes the North West Urban Fringe ‘Darlington’s green infrastructure network is high quality, multi-functional and accessible, which significantly enhances the community’s quality of life and the natural environment for wildlife’.
There is a naturally wet area in a slight hollow which lies to the eastern boundary of the site, and therefore roughly in the centre of the wider triangle of the wider West Park development. This area has been identified as the key central open space and the wet area will be developed into a more significant water body. This area will be designed as a key central space at the heart of several long vistas and highly visible by road users using the spine road.
The southern boundary in Stag House Farm is one of the lowest points on the site and has been identified as the location for a series of linear attenuation ponds. It is proposed these will be designed not only to provide the vital function of attenuation but also to include an element of permanent water for aesthetic function, and with gently shelved margins capable of supporting marginal species to improve biodiversity.
Key Constraints and Opportunities
The western boundary with the A1 Motorway is a significant constraint but also an opportunity for a creative design response. The motorway is largely level with the site therefore acoustic bunds will need to run along the western site boundary. It is proposed the bunds will be designed in organic shapes and planted to form a strong linear green edge to the development, also adapted to permit the existing stream and service corridors to cross.
In accordance with Green Infrastructure principles, this western linear green space will be designed to be multifunctional, not only providing the acoustic function through the bunds but also a connecting green space with a footpath / bridleway, and the existing un-named watercourse expanded into ‘oxbow’ ponds providing opportunities to enrich and diversify native species.
The two service corridors cross the site, each around 25 metres wide. While they are a constraint to development they also provide an opportunity for connectivity, creative design, green links and long vistas. The design of surrounding housing could seek to provide natural surveillance by fronting onto the service corridors where possible, and seeking to join the linear space to nodal spaces in order to break up the linearity. Planting should also be avoided other than where trees exist already within the corridors.
Movement and Links
There are no public footpaths on the site at present, however a key design driver of the Masterplan is the creation of a permeable and well-connected site, both for internal circulation and for connections to nearby paths, shops and schools.
The existing bridleway that lies along Edward Pease Way (also a cycleway) is proposed to be partially re-routed and extended to create a circular multi-user route that will follow the line of ancient hedgerows in the north of the site. It will then cross the existing stream to follow the proposed linear green space alongside the acoustic bunds and western site boundary.
Connections to and across the ‘trackbed’ path are a key consideration, especially since the path may, in future, be extended northwards beyond the A1(M) where it presently terminates. This connection is already picked up on Darlington’s Cycle Map which indicates a cycle link over the A1(M) connecting north towards Walworth. The service corridors will also be treated as connective routes, leading conveniently to the existing West Park Village and shops.