Innovative Eco Friendly Regeneration - Updated 6-23

10 February 2023

Human Nature

Human Nature  was founded by Jonathan Smales and Michael Manolson who were directors and international trustees of Greenpeace in the 1980s.  Post Greenpeace they consulted widely, as Human Nature,  with major businesses, investors, international agencies, government and local authorities, which has resulted in pioneering work on green buildings, energy and sustainable construction. Human Nature has now moved into development.

The company believes that new approaches are needed to create better places, social inclusion and development.  Better designs, economic models and protocols are needed to support the required shift to sustainable ways of living.    

The Phoenix

Human Nature have now proposed a major development The Phoenix in Lewes Sussex. The proposed development is to create a new neighbourhood on a 7.9HA site within the South Downs National Park on the banks of the River Ouse, that responds to the climate and natural challenges we all face by turning these challenges into opportunities for better design, better placemaking and healthier living. The development is planned to prioritise people over cars, be powered by renewable energy and designed to encourage a culture of sharing, it represents a new and regenerative way to make a place and create a more productive local economy fit for the 21st century. 

Innovative Construction

The development will transform a neglected brownfield site into a beautiful, green place, providing the town with much-needed homes and jobs, community spaces, a river walk, flood defences and health centre. At the heart of the neighbourhood will be a series of public squares connecting to a community canteen, event hall, taproom, fitness centre, workspace and makers’ studios, much of which will be housed within repurposed industrial structures.

The Phoenix will be particularly notable for its use of structural timber, which will be used on all new buildings on site, with one exception. Engineered timber offers the structural strength of ‘traditional’ materials, such as concrete and steel, but with lower embodied carbon. In fact, timber sourced from sustainable, well-managed forests is regenerative – it sequesters carbon, giving timber structure buildings a negative carbon impact overall.  Some of the timber will come from Sussex woodlands. The scheme is also conducting an audit to reveal what site materials can be reused in building structures, such as steel trusses and cladding, brick walls and buttressing, and what can be recycled for ‘cut and fill’ (to level and landscape the site) or reconstituted as bricks

The Masterplan

The Phoenix development comprises 18 different housing blocks designed by 13 different architects including Mae Architects, Ash Sakula and Charles Holland. Other firms on the project team include Arup, masterplanners Periscope, environmental engineers Atelier Ten and timber specialists Whitby Wood.. This rich mix gives the neighbourhood diversity, character and housing choice.  The homes are primarily apartments – not apartments as we have come to know them in the UK, but solid, natural, double-aspect homes where air circulates well and natural daylight illuminates the space. 

The Phoenix will embrace its position at the edge of the Ouse, opening up the riverfront to Lewes. A boardwalk will run the length of the Phoenix, north and south into the surrounding town.  It will widen in the centre, where elevated gardens, the Belvedere, will provide a place to sit and take in views of the river and Downs.

The scheme seeks to ‘capture the radical spirit of Lewes and enhance its extraordinary landscape.

The Economics

The Phoenix site is bigger than most sites in Guildford at 7.9HA.  The plans in Shaping Guildford’s Future for the Bedford Wharf area in the town cover approximately 3.75HA.  The North Street site is about 1.6HA.

The Scheme will provide 700 Dwellings, 3,300 Sq/M of workspace, a £15M contribution to Flood defences, 17% of the housing will be affordable, and a new pedestrian bridge over the river.  The scheme is estimated to cost £430Million. (For comparison the  Guildford North Street development has a development cost of circa £250M-£300M for 470 Dwellings.)

Site Visit

A Society recently visited a public exihibition in Lewes on the scheme.  Points noted on the visit include:

  1. All car parking is in one block on the edge of the site, this allows the block to re-purposed if necessary in the future.
  2. A 50 car fleet of shared electric cars is being considered.
  3. As timber construction will be used  the plan is to set up a woodworker scheme locally to train construction and maintenance personnel.
  4. Buildings will be flexible and for example flats will be able to be revised to change the balance of flat sizes.
  5. Ground air Source Heat Pumps are to be used to provide Heating AND Cooling.
  6. All pitched roofs will have PV Cells
  7. Detailed design has been done on only the Northern block of the development.  The planning application is a masterplan with one illustrative block developed in more detail. The plans can be seen at

Towards the foot of the of the document list Parcel 1 provides details of the proposed block.

  1. The viability of the scheme is enabled by a) Human Nature seeking a lower profit 12-15% compared to other developers, and they are proposing a higher density compared to normal in Lewes.
  2. The site provides new river crossings and also new links to the North of the Site.
  3. There is the Lewes Fire Station in the middle of the site, and it has proved impossible so far to shift this facility. 
  4. Some of the better old buildings will be repurposed for Commercial Use
  5. The scheme is incorporating the River Ouse Floodwalls in a manner that makes them less visually obvious.
  6. The Scheme is planned to be built over about 8 Years approx..

Lessons for Guildford.

Lewes has a many parallels to Guildford.  Both are Gap Towns with flooding issues, both have historic cores with high streets leading to a the river, both had industrialisation along the riverside in Victorian times, both are county towns, and both have traffic issues as by-passes are limited to one side of the town.

The proposals in Lewes are worth looking at as they do provide ideas for Guildford.

  • Has Public Engagement been better?  Phoenix, as an example, ran a design festival for the scheme.
  • Using a multiplicity of Architects has that given real variety of design?
  • Innovative Construction Methods, using timber, how are these cost justified?  

It will be interesting to see how this scheme progresses through planning and development.  The full Design and Access statment is available here

Update on Progress

The South downs National Park the planning authority for the scheme, have not as yety approved the scheme. They have raised a series of questions which it hoped can be resolved over the summer.  The National Park have noted in their letter which can be found on the planning portal that:

"We continue to be excited about the concept and principles behind the application. We applauded what Human Nature are trying to achieve with their proposal and remain broadly supportive of the concept and bold initiative being explored. There are some concerns over massing and scale in key parts of the application site, phasing, clarity of objective and some viability issues but the principle of increasing density is accepted." 


Share this article

Related Articles

Help us make Guildford better

We want our town to be vibrant, attractive and liveable. We support development that brings a sense of place and enhances the best aspects of our town. If such aims can be embraced, we believe Guildford has the chance to lead the way in enabling sensitive and sustainable development.

Pressures for development are increasing. Planning rules are being eased. The Society’s commitment to standing up for Guildford is needed more than ever.

Support Us

Getting involved allows the society to continue its work.   We welcome new members, from every age and background.  Membership provides an opportunity for you to contribute to the continued health of the town and surrounding area, and to meet other people who care about Guildford.