Does Derwenthorpe in York live up to the dream of a model village?

Quaker, philanthropist and chocolate magnate Joseph Rowntree created the garden village of New Earswick in York more than a century ago and it remains successful thanks to care and thoughtful design.Conceived in 1901 as an alternative to the overcrowded and unsanitary housing available to his workers, the light-filled homes have gardens. There are also allotments, open green space and abundant facilities, including schools and a village hall.Now, the final phase of Derwenthorpe, a 21st century version of New Earswick, is underway amid discussion on whether it has achieved its aims. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust has continued its founder’s ethos with the aim of creating a vibrant and sustainable community, which is set in 18 acres in Osbaldwick on the outskirts of York.The plan was to address modern-day and age-old issues, including social inclusion and diversity, affordability, access to green space and the need for good design and energy efficiency.But first there were barriers to overcome. While Joseph Rowntree needed only money and vision to build New Earswick, it took 12 years of wrangling, protests and hold-ups before the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust could begin the first phase of Derwenthorpe in 2011.The consensus from residents seems to be that it was worth the wait and that the soon-to-be finished development –winner of nine awards – is a very pleasant place to live and far better than bog-standard housing developments.

Rich in diversity

A quarter of the 483 homes are social rented and 15 per cent are shared ownership, which addresses affordability. The rest are privately owned, and prices now start at £331,995, reflecting York’s high property values.Designed by Studio Partington and built by the Trust’s development partner, David Wilson Homes, the properties are energy efficient thanks to high levels of insulation. None of the homes have boilers. Instead, the hot water for heating and washing is delivered via underground pipes from biomass boilers housed in Derwenthorpe’s “Super Sustainability Centre”.Each property has its own thermostat and meter. While biomass is 60 per cent greener than gas and costs the same, JHRT is unlikely to use it again. Technology has moved on and Owen Daggett, JRHT’s strategic asset manager, says the installation of pipes to every home on site was expensive and challenging.

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Off site construction

It is now trialling a new approach with two of the final phase properties. They are being built off-site by Melius Homes and fitted with air source heat pumps and solar panels that feed electricity into storage batteries. If successful and financially viable, the JRHT may use this model on future developments.It will also re-use the more successful elements of the Derwenthorpe homes, including large areas of glazing and wall and ceiling panels that can be removed to make way for a lift.Carey English, 64, who has lived at Derwenthorpe for more than two years, liked this idea as it turns a house into a lifetime home. She was also swayed by the prospect of being part of a community.There is a growing sense of togetherness thanks to events and the groups that meet in the Super Sustainabilty Centre’s residents’ room. The design of the site also encourages interaction.“We have done some research that shows that living here makes a positive difference to your quality of life,” says Joanne Lofthouse, the JRHT manager for Derwenthorpe.

Social spaces

Residents pay a £38.18 per month fee for extra amenities, which include acres of green space with meadows, ponds and a play park and the pocket gardens and places to sit, which are interspersed with the houses.

The chance of meeting your neighbours, stopping for a chat and of children playing out are greatly increased here. But nowhere is perfect and in this garden of Eden, parking is the very devil.Most of the properties have one parking bay to encourage households to have just one car. The JRHT reasoned this was more eco-friendly and that amenities were close by in Osbaldwick with quick links into York city centre via a cycle path and the much-loved community bus.

Parking issues

The theory is good but the reality is different and parking rows are not uncommon.“It is the biggest issue,” says resident Kate Rose, 33. “We have one car as my husband but lots of households have two, so they pinch other people’s parking bays.”Rose teaches Zumba in the community room, has two young sons and loves the “family feel” and green space at Derwenthorpe.Geraldine Casswell and her husband, David, are also happy they retired there in July 2017. She says: “We valued the idea of establishing a community and the fact that social housing is integrated. We also like the green space and the design of the house, which is very light and energy efficient.“I thought fuel bills would be cheaper and I can’t understand why the houses don’t have solar panels but we are still pleased we moved here.“My son lives in a new development in London and that’s very different. He has been there five years and doesn’t know his neighbours.”While she would love to see Derwenthorpe with its green spaces and community meeting place replicated, the chances are slim. Planning rules would have to change and land values fall to make schemes like this viable.“I can’t see it happening,” says Geraldine. “But it would be wonderful if it did.”*Homes at Derwenthorpe start from £331,995,

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