London-based birdwatchers no longer need to travel to the Norfolk Broads to spot the elusive bittern, one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds. Instead, twitchers can take the Tube to Manor House in Hackney and walk five minutes through gritty back streets to a new nature reserve on two giant reservoirs that are an integral part of a 5,500-home new waterfront neighbourhood called Woodberry Down.
The previously fenced-off reservoirs had been off-limits to the public for over 200 years, but spurred by an ambitious plan to transform an adjacent 64-acre council estate into a smart new address, London Wildlife Trust and Thames Water joined forces with developer Berkeley Homes to create an awesome inner-city wetlands, opened by David Attenborough.
Many of the new apartments overlook the reservoirs, which have been upgraded with new boardwalks and bridges.
Now thriving with reed beds, wildflower meadows, beehives, bats, insects and rare migrating birds, including bitterns, of which only 600 are thought to winter in the UK, this rejuvenated ecological haven is a hugely successful part of the development, says Berkeley director Piers Clanford.
“Residents love it, and local schools and community groups as well as young families from the wider area are using it, which is fantastic to see.” One of the reservoirs is a well-used urban recreational facility, with a trim trail for joggers and a sailing club offering various water sports.
The original filter house is a café with old hydraulic machinery on display, and even the Victorian pumping station at the reservoir gates has been converted into a climbing centre.
In addition, the New River runs alongside the reservoirs. Its footpath winds through Haringey to the river’s source near Hertford, while a cycle route connects to amazing Walthamstow Wetlands.
Locals can also enjoy 13 acres of open parkland, two new schools and an academy, plus community amenities including post office, health centre and fitness studio. It is easy to see why the new homes are attracting buyers, especially after the confines of lockdown and amid the quest for a healthy, eco-friendly lifestyle.
Keen jogger Jo Weston, 36, discovered the area while studying the map for a place where she could run. She had been living in a house-share in north London and wanted a home of her own, so she bought a one-bedroom apartment with a balcony.
“Lockdown wasn’t such a hardship here, because of the beautiful surroundings,” says Jo, who works in advertising in Camden. “I’m lucky to have such amazing nature on my doorstep – and to be able to just step outside and take it all in.”
Crisp new apartment blocks are linked by a series of pocket parks and open spaces. These include Skyline, a 30-storey tower with great views across the water towards the City.
At Hawker House, the latest phase, prices start at £508,500. Call 020 3944 7729. Shared ownership flats are also available. Prices from £155,000 for a 25 per cent share of a two-bedroom apartment. Call housing association Notting Hill Genesis on 020 3815 2222.
While the zero-carbon quest is bringing environmentally friendly developments in from the cold, Woodberry Down shows that green housing is about much more than energy-saving features such as solar heating and ground source heat pumps, important as they are. With planners demanding that housing promotes ecology, developers are being forced to set aside land for tree planting and allotments, and to build “green” walls that are habitats for birds and insects.
Developers who fail to rise to the green challenge risk being refused planning permission, even bankruptcy, so there are sound commercial reasons for going green.
Already a raft of regulations is beginning to bite. Homes have to comply with eco-ratings based on everything from how close they are to public transport to their thermal efficiency, how well they tackle recycling and whether they use sustainable materials.
There are much tougher standards on the way. In future, gas boilers and hobs are likely to be banned, with housing estates and flats kept warm by networks of hot water, according to the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change. The water could be heated by waste heat from industry or via heat pumps that draw warmth from the sea or lakes. And these systems will work only if homes are super-insulated so they require little heating.
The once-grim industrial landscape is getting a new lease of life
If you head east out of London past river-hugging Royal Docks to the Thames Estuary, swish new apartment blocks quickly give way to a forbidding industrial landscape of petrochemical plants, power stations, cement works, freight depots, breakers’ yards and oil refineries.
Welcome to the raw end of the so-called Thames Gateway. Pretty it ain’t, at least not in the conventional sense. But if a fresh regeneration plan succeeds, this swathe of the Thames Estuary, whose marshes and mudflats make it one of the UK’s richest wildlife habitats, will be a sought-after place for people to live, too.
The first 2,850 of 30,000 new homes earmarked by Thurrock council have got the green light. The £1 billion project brings a new town centre, train station and two schools at Purfleet plus one of Europe’s biggest media villages.
The 143-acre waterfront site will get a new boardwalk esplanade as well as vast amounts of green space and woodland integrated with new flood defences. Homes, to be built by Swan Housing, will be for rent and for sale, with at least 50 per cent of modular construction, an eco-friendly factory system that keeps prices more affordable. The council is also collaborating with Port of London Authority, whose 2035 Thames Vision aims to boost not just trade and transport, but to clean and open up the river for recreation and culture.
Thames Estuary Path, a new 29-mile route linking Tilbury with the seaside town of Southend, runs parallel to the C2C train line into Fenchurch Street and is an amazingly interesting trek, taking in lonely marshlands, historic forts, abandoned radar towers, kitsch caravan parks and lovely old fishing villages such as Leigh-on-Sea.
Another ambitious project is Barking Riverside, where 10,800 homes are being built on a 440-acre site fronting a wide sweep of the tidal Thames. Its two kilometres of waterfront boast mudflats and a nature reserve that attract wading and migrating birds.
Utiliising the once-polluted river for leisure and educational purposes is a priority. An ecology centre is located alongside the first phase of homes, which start at £250,000, with shared ownership options from £81,250. Call L&Q on 020 8617 1747.
Trailblazing new environmental measures include an underground waste recycling system that avoids conventional bin lorry collections. Residents place rubbish in colour-coded chutes which open daily and transfer the contents direct to a community waste station. Fresh healthcare ideas including prescription deliveries by drone are also being promoted, with NHS collaboration.
At the height of Empire in the late 19th century, River Roding – a tributary of the Thames – and Barking Creek were home to England’s largest fishing fleet and a vast icehouse where catches were landed and stored prior to being transferred to Billingsgate and other London markets.
Today the river has only a few houseboats – but the riverbank is being revitalised with new housing. Abbey Quay is a new “urban village” of 1,089 homes priced from £327,000. This quarter also borders a park with the ruins of a medieval abbey. Call Weston Homes on 020 3793 2585.
‘I wanted a low-maintenance home where I could keep fit’
For decades, “eco-housing” existed only on the margins of the property market, dismissed by home buyers as faddish and unreliable – the fixation of nutty professors and futuristic architects. But climate concerns have transformed attitudes.
Green homes have gone from hippy to hip. Nine out of 10 buyers want one, according to a recent Mori poll, and people will even pay extra if they are convinced it helps save the planet and makes them healthier. Other research concludes that within a decade green homes will command a nine per cent premium on resale. Green mortgages are making it easier for buyers, providing lower interest rates on energy-efficient homes.
Obviously, buyers don’t want to compromise on style or comfort. They want homes that have design flair and are glamorous, that are satisfying to live in as well as cheaper to run.
Hill is a developer with a track record in embracing not only the nuts and bolts of low-energy homes but also building attractive housing in green settings. It says architecture and ecology should go hand in hand.
Following on from a pioneering green neighbourhood at Trumpington on the outskirts of Cambridge, Hill is now building at a leafy new settlement on the fringe of Oxford.
Called Barton Park, it is one of the Government’s NHS Healthy New Towns, and brings a range of Scandi-style low-carbon new homes, biodiverse green space and lakes, plus pedestrian and cycle networks. About 50 per cent of homes at Hill’s Mosaics scheme have been snapped up by medical sector staff at local hospitals.
One of these is junior scientist Annamaria Tessitore (above), who paid £415,000 for a one-bedroom apartment after a spell of renting in Oxford city centre. “I have a busy and challenging career so I wanted a low-maintenance home in surroundings where I can keep fit and healthy,” she said.
Three-bedroom apartments at Mosaics are priced from £560,000, while four-bedroom houses start at £914,950. Call 01865 950199.
Cool architecture gets close to nature
The gently rolling hills and picture-postcard villages of the Cotswolds are within a two-hour drive of London. As such, it is a perfect place for people quitting the Smoke or wanting to buy a second home within reasonable reach for weekend getaways and holidays.
The Cotswolds has among the highest-value properties in the UK outside London. One reason for this is the strict line adopted by planners, who are keen to protect historic villages. So called “vernacular” architecture – traditional house styles using local materials such as honey-coloured stone – is still favoured. But stylish new housing is emerging to meet the demands of design-conscious London buyers, whose preference is for cool and contemporary design, with lots of creature comforts.
At Lower Mill Estate, a 600-acre eco-zone offering all sorts of outdoor pursuits, buyers can purchase a plot and commission a house to be built on it. Remarkably, this development has risen on former quarries where Mother Nature took over.
When gravel excavation stops, lakes form at quarries because water flows through the substrata and they get flooded, resulting in amazing habitats, with reed beds and ground cover attracting all sorts of wildlife.
Subject to planning permission, buyers can have a one-off architect-designed home or choose a house type offered by developer Habitat First Group, whose lakeside properties come with decked verandas, boatstore-style art studios and glass gable ends. Prices start at £940,000. Call 01285 869489.