Sir Titus Salt would be delighted to know that his Victorian model village in Saltaire is not just a desirable postcode and tourist attraction.
The proof of its continued relevance is at Kirkstall Forge, a 57-acre former industrial site between Leeds city centre and fashionable Horsforth, where Feilden Clegg Bradley architects have been heavily influenced by Salt’s ethos of building better for the sake of well-being.
He wanted to provide his mill workers with an alternative to slums and gave them attractive, good quality homes, a new factory and plenty of amenities. The reward was healthier, happier employees who were more productive.
Feilden Clegg Bradley architects and developers CEG are emulating that ideal and while their main aim is to build and sell residential and commercial property, they have higher aspirations of creating a contemporary idyll.
They have been greatly helped by the natural environment and the prime location. The old forge is in a hidden valley with the River Aire running through the centre and beautiful views of a wooded landscape. This sylvan setting sits just seconds away from the main A65.
CEG has just released the first images of what its new homes could look like after submitting the detailed designs for council approval.
It already has consent to build and construction should start on the first phase of 112 properties at the beginning of next year. They will go on sale in September 2018 and mark an important milestone in a ten-year scheme to build 1,050 new homes, 300,000 sq ft of office space and 100,000 sq ft of shops, cafes and bars, plus a new primary school and play park.
The houses and apartments are strikingly contemporary, which is what CEG MD Jon Kenny wanted. He chose Sterling prize winners Feilden Clegg Bradley after seeing its Dwelling Accordia project in Cambridge.
“We didn’t want to fall into the trap of repeating a path well trodden. We wanted to do something different,” he says.
More than Â£40million has already been invested in demolition, site clearance, decontamination, infrastructure works and the construction of the first office building. There’s also a new bridge over the river and an impressive decked area around the water.
The three to four-bedroom houses in the first phase of building are on the hillside below Abbey Road and are terraced on three tree-lined streets. The proposed buildings will be of brick, in a colour resembling the stone used in the old forge building and in Kirkstall Abbey.
They feature open-plan living spaces, 12-foot high ceilings and an abundance of glazing, plus gardens, terraces and parking.
Architect Andrew MacIntosh says: “The houses will curve along the contours of the valley, with the lowest row lining the riverside below.
“It is an arrangement that borrows both from industrial era model villages, such as Saltaire and also from contemporary Scandinavian ideas about co-housing.” At the centre of the site, a public square will be flanked by a pair of taller buildings, which will include houses and apartments, shops, cafes, restaurants and a concierge service, all arranged around a large communal courtyard garden.
Jon Kenny admits that the site looked like “Mission Impossible” but thanks to his determination and strong political support at local level it promises to be one of Leeds’ biggest property success stories.
“It’s been very complex and up there with some of the biggest regeneration projects in the country,” says Kenny. Now based in London, he grew up in Yorkshire and remembers “the mile-long big red brick wall” surrounding the working forge from when he was a child.
“When I first saw behind that wall I realised there was a beautiful river valley surrounded by woodland. It was unlike any other industrial site I had seen. It is exceptional.
“It was an opportunity to create a modern village, a balanced community where people can both live and work. Chances like that don’t come along very often.”
Plans for the site, which CEG bought in 2003, were stalled by the recession but patience was rewarded by the piece de resistance, the new Kirkstall Forge railway station and a six-minute train journey into Leeds central station.
It opened two years ago and was a hard-won joint effort between CEG, the council, Metro and the local MP, who persuaded central government to fund the station.
Having a train to take the strain will be a major selling point when the first homes hit the market next year.
It has certainly helped fill the first office block, which opens in October with half of it already pre-let to Zenith Intelligent Vehicle Solutions.
The office workers will be Kirkstall Forge’s first “residents” and if Jon Kenny’s vision is realised, by 2027 there should be 10,000 people living and working alongside them.
This is the biggest scheme he has ever been involved in and he sees it as a legacy site. He hopes that when his own children are older and drive past the reborn forge, they can be proud and say, “My dad did that.”
For more details visit www.kirkstallforge.com