Urban&Civic - Learning the lessons

Published on
4 min read

Urban&Civic was founded with the vision of creating beautiful, sustainable places to live and at the same time addressing the increasing housing needs of the broader south east for large scale strategic residential led development sites. Delivery of this vision began through private equity funding, before being taken public in 2014. In January 2021 Urban&Civic was acquired by the Wellcome Trust, providing a further injection of institutional capital to build on this vision. Over the last ten years, the business has grown to become the leading Master Developer of large-scale strategic sites.

Urban&Civic story so far 

Urban&Civic craft long-term, sustainable new communities and currently have seven sites in active delivery across the UK creating just under 30,000 homes and over three million meter square footage of commercial space. Its customers range from national housebuilders to SMEs, affordable providers and the build to rent sector.

We spoke to James Scott, group director of strategy and planning, and Rebecca Britton, regional director of communities and partnerships, about the importance of sustainable place making and how building a new community has its foundations in engagement and the critical importance of education.

Sustainable place making

At the beginning of every project, Urban&Civic work extensively with local partners and local communities to develop a shared vision for the new places coming forward. Being open about the vision, scale and approach is an essential part of the strategy ensuring people can feed in thoughts, issues and aspirations, and really shape future plans from the outset. Open space, sustainable and environmentally friendly communities with excellent local facilities are at the heart of each project: through careful design, sustainable implementation, and getting the new and neighbouring communities engaged in using the spaces created.

Rebecca commented: “While much of the early focus of discussion is on potential traffic impacts, schools and doctors surgeries – all of which we need to get right – as you work closer with people, many of the opportunities to really make a place special come to light. Getting people involved in new tree planting or hedge laying that supports our biodiversity goals, bringing a place’s history to life with heritage trails, or bringing local scout groups or charity runs together to connect existing and new communities. That’s really where the sustainability comes in, ensuring the new is future proofed so that it lasts for generations to come”.

The critical importance of education

Urban&Civic’s commitment to education runs through the company’s DNA. They are committed to building schools early, as a hub around which the community grows. While many developers will write the s106 cheque for a new school in a development and hand over responsibility for delivery, Urban&Civic embrace the opportunity it provides to put an inspiring civic heart into a new community early, stay actively involved and even deliver the schools themselves where possible.

James Scott explains: “We put significant emphasis on delivering really good schools. We start by ensuring the schools lie at the heart of the homes coming forward, providing space inside and out for the new community to come together: through great landscape setting, providing safe cycle to school routes. We are proud to have worked with award winning architects such as Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, dRMM and van Heyningen and Haward that design practical but beautiful buildings.  These schools are both landmarks for the community, as well as inspiring and sustainable places to learn.”

At Alconbury Weald, the propeller shaped school opens its arms wide to new residents in its location at the end of a former airfield taxiway – now transformed into a stunning linear park.

At Houlton, Rugby, Mills & Reeve helped set up a completely new structure between Urban&Civic, Warwickshire County Council, Homes England and the Department for Education to enable early delivery of an innovative school, which has transformed a Grade 2 listed building into an awe-inspiring secondary school not only to serve Houlton but provide much needed educational capacity for the surrounding area.

James added, “Most developers or education authorities wouldn’t want the risk or associated cost with working with a listed building, however we knew it were the right thing for the building, the school and the scheme as a whole, so we assessed the delivery risk. The innovation will continue next at Waterbeach, near Cambridge, where the first primary school within the development of the former Barracks will only have walk-ways and cycle paths leading to and from the school. It is a bold move, but will no doubt, combat the congestion and the inevitable air pollution at school drop-off and pick up times. The superb coffee stations on all routes, plus open spaces and play parks for parents and children to meet, will no doubt also encourage people out of their cars.”

School design and delivery isn’t Urban&Civic’s only involvement. Their staff are school governors and some are active members of the academy trusts that run the schools.

Rebecca adds: “Developing new communities isn’t all about planning or even design: it’s an ongoing collaboration with residents, neighbours, local partners, which ultimately is sustainable if we engage people from the beginning, and throughout delivery. We love that people care about their neighbourhoods and we hope through creating great new places and inspiring schools, and through supporting new residents to be active informed and involved, we can ensure an enduring and sustainable future for our developments.”

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