Esholt: A Truly Sustainable Development?

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By Andrew Wood
21st July 2019

The Design and Planning Statement (the applicant’s main supporting document for their proposals) for ‘Esholt Positive Living’ reveals high hopes for the future of this site.

Cyclist in Esholt Village
Cyclist in Esholt Village

Keyland Developments’ Managing Director, Peter Garrett, is quoted as follows: “This project is an opportunity to create an exemplar that will set the new standard for Keyland, the rest of Yorkshire and the UK into the future.” The document continues: “It is Keyland and Yorkshire Water’s aspiration to deliver a truly sustainable community, in terms of its relationship with nature, the connections to its surroundings and its environmental performance.”

It is very encouraging to see these words in an applicant’s planning statement, even if we have seen many that take an overly-optimistic view of their sustainability credentials. Having spoken to the applicant, we believe that their intentions are good. The question is, what does ‘a truly sustainable community’ really look like?

We could start with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There are 17 goals. ‘Clean water and sanitation’ (Goal 6) is clearly relevant, because not only are we considering the modernisation of sewage treatment, but Yorkshire Water are keen to use Esholt as a showcase for new development that is efficient in water consumption and flood resilience. For example, a grey water system will enable reduced treatment of water supplies in the site that are not for potable uses – for example if a business is using water for cooling, this does not need to be drinking water, and requires less treatment – meaning less energy and fewer chemicals.

‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure’ (Goal 9) is pertinent, because the applicant is hoping to attract innovative businesses that want to be part of a development that is fit for the future. But there are risks. Can the scheme show good credentials when it comes to air quality (Goal 11) when commercial and residential development will generate additional road traffic? What contribution will it make towards climate action (Goal 13)?

It’s a difficult balance. The site is complex and its rich tapestry of assets – particularly the woodland and the watercourses, must be enhanced if the scheme is to live up to its promise. If the built development scores significantly more points for environmental performance than run-of-the-mill schemes, might this give room for compromise in other aspects? If Yorkshire Water can demonstrate the success of innovative ideas at Esholt, this could set a very positive example to developers elsewhere, and raise local authorities’ expectations of all developers.

Let’s bring this closer to home, and consider what a sustainable outcome for Esholt and its surroundings may be. At CPRE, we are currently working on a vision for how we believe West Yorkshire’s countryside should change for the better – these link local communities’ aspirations to the global challenges. The countryside needs to work harder for everyone, meaning it needs:

• More plants, especially trees, to help address the climate challenge;
• More wildlife, to make sure ecosystems can thrive;
• More walkability, reducing dependence on cars so as to help people be active and healthy;
• More joy, to make West Yorkshire a fulfilling place to live, work and grow up.

These are our ambitions for West Yorkshire, and it’s interesting to see how the Esholt scheme would fare against them. Judicious tree planting could complement and join up the existing woodland network, and would need to be combined with a sensitive management plan for the woodland. The ecological impacts and potential have as yet not been fully scrutinised, but Bradford Council has provided a scoping report showing the range of considerations for which the applicant will need to submit evidence.

For ecology, these requirements appear to go beyond what the applicant has already provided, and the report expects the scheme to demonstrate ‘a significant net gain for biodiversity’.

We’ll consider the issue of walkability in our next post – giving us the chance to explore this aspect more fully.

On the question of joy, there are clearly opportunities to improve people’s experience of the area by removing dereliction, and opening up more connections to nature. For some people that opportunity will extend to being able to live there, but the landscape, woodland and nature are public goods that must be available to everyone. A crucial aspect of this is heritage: Historic England’s consultation response is keen to ensure that the setting of Esholt Hall and its gardens, as well as Esholt village Conservation Area, are considered in an integrated way. At present, it is difficult for people to experience Esholt Hall’s heritage, because it is hidden away, and this should be remedied.

We are also concerned that the proposed treatment of the main access road, branch off from Apperley Bridge station approach, bridging over the railway, and then joining up to the Avenue, will harm the experience of the historic approach to the Hall. Given that the Park & Ride facility at the station is already quite dominant in the landscape, there is a risk that the first impression of approaching the site will be a large car park. Indeed, a more imaginative treatment of the road access and its surrounding land, including good screening of the car park, may well be a modification that we seek in responding to the proposals. This area has pleasing vistas to the west and south-west, and minimising the visual impact of car parking could offer a significant landscape enhancement.