1. What is Human Nature and how is it connected to the Phoenix?
The Phoenix is a sustainable neighbourhood on a former industrial site in Lewes, a historic town within the South Downs National Park. This new neighbourhood turns the imperatives of the climate and natural emergencies into opportunities for better design, better placemaking and ultimately healthier and better living. It is being brought forward by Human Nature, which acquired the site, which covers the Phoenix Industrial Estate and North Street area, in April 2021.
The company was founded in 2015 by Jonathan Smales and Michael Manolson, two former Greenpeace directors, and grew out of Beyond Green, a leading UK consultancy in sustainable development. Human Nature is designing and building the world's best sustainable developments which are regenerative for life, society, economy, nature and climate. Much of the Human Nature team is based in Lewes and its offices are at Phoenix House, which will be retained and refitted for the new neighbourhood.
2. There have been plans to develop this site before, what makes this project different?
There is a long history of failed proposals on this site. The previous owner of the land, Santon, acquired planning consent in spring 2016 for its North Street Quarter, but, after five years with no progress made, put the land up for sale. The previous scheme is widely considered to be financially unviable due to the ratio between low housing numbers and very high infrastructure costs – such as site remediation and flood defences to infrastructure and various planning requirements including the provision of land for the Health Centre and a new footbridge – meaning the site remains derelict and blighted, with its huge potential unfulfilled. Human Nature submitted a ‘hybrid’ planning application to the South Downs National Park in March 2023. You can see the planning application on the South Downs National Park Authority website here
. The Phoenix Design & Access Statement, which describes the development in detail, is also available here
3. How will the Phoenix benefit the rest of the town?
The project will provide 700 new homes, designed to meet the housing need in Lewes, including 210 genuinely affordable homes, which will be designated as either First Homes (discounted by a minimum of 30% against the market value) or as affordable rent (at a level of rent which does not exceed Local Housing Allowance). See What is meant by ‘affordable housing’?, below.
The Phoenix will also bring an abundance of new public space to the town, including seven public gardens and squares and four community buildings, containing a low-cost canteen, creative workspace, events space and taproom, and sport, wellbeing and fitness centre. A new river walk will run the length of the site, rising to a Belvedere in the centre where a footbridge will connect to Malling Recreation Ground. A cycle route will run through the neighbourhood and across the Causeway, with a new foreshore park connecting the river’s edge to Eastgate Street.
The neighbourhood will also bring much in the way of investment and employment. This includes £15m invested in new flood defences and river walk; an uplift of £3.9m for the local economy each year; and more than 500 construction jobs and 380 permanent jobs. Human Nature will pay £7m as part of the Community Infrastructure Levy, designed to help local authorities invest in supporting infrastructure, facilities and services.
4. How is the Phoenix providing for disadvantaged groups?
Beyond the provision of new homes, the Phoenix is designed to provide opportunities for everyone to thrive and live a fulfilling and enjoyable life. This means providing workspaces that can support start-ups with a wide range of activities, including small-scale manufacturing, tech, service industries and makers. It also means providing education opportunities, especially for those who struggle to engage with the school system.
Human Nature is already hosting East Sussex College on the site, providing facilities for their training courses in the construction industry, and intends to grow this relationship, so that many of the 500 construction jobs can be filled by young people from Lewes.Finally, it means providing sport and leisure opportunities, which are open and accessible to all. The Phoenix already hosts Starfish, a music project that works with young people in Lewes, and Human Nature is planning to provide facilities for sport and well-being in the new Soap Factory.
Finally, it means providing sport and leisure opportunities, which are open and accessible to all. We already host Starfish, a music project that works with young people in Lewes, and we are planning to provide facilities for sport and well-being in the new Soap Factory.
5. What is your flood strategy?
Human Nature will add to the existing flood defences along the river with a new flood wall to defend the site against the one in 100 year event, including an allowance for climate change, designed for a 120-year life. The Pells area, including the Pells Pool and the Pelham Terrace neighbourhood, will be provided with a similar level of protection through carefully designed defences which have been worked up in discussion with the Pells and St John’s residents. A raised embankment at the southern end of Talbot Terrace will also protect the neighbourhood from flooding from the railway.
A sustainable drainage strategy has also been developed in close coordination with the EA and East Sussex County Council. All stormwater will be discharged to the river, and storage will be created to hold storm water when high river levels do not permit river discharge. Storage in landscaped features – rain gardens – within the street corridors and courtyards perform this function.
6. How is the Phoenix providing for younger people?
The Phoenix will be a place where young people can live, work and play. The Soap Factory will contain bouldering, skateboarding, dance studios and provide a new home for Starfish, while generous public squares and gardens will give new places to socialise and skate. There will also be employment and training opportunities. In partnership with East Sussex College, Human Nature will be providing training programmes on the Phoenix, with some residential units potentially reserved for apprentices. There will also be a number of low-rent commercial units and work spaces on the site.
The Phoenix will contain many smaller homes, compact apartments, some at rent tied to average household income, and First Homes (homes to buy at a discounted price for first time buyers), enabling young people to stay in Lewes. The site will also enable affordable living through lower energy bills, access to car hire and car club services which mean there will be no need to own a car, a low-cost community canteen and shared facilities.
7. How is the Phoenix providing for older people?
The Phoenix has been designed to accommodate people of all ages, where intergenerational living and mixing is encouraged, fostering a sense of community and reducing loneliness. Many elements of the Phoenix will particularly appeal to older people, with the principle of shared living – of space, amenities and ideas – often highlighted in our focus groups. This will be a safe and accessible neighbourhood – with streets for people, not cars – and all amenities within a five-minute walk. The Phoenix will also appeal to those looking to downsize, with many one and two-bedrooms homes available. The Foundry Health Care Centre will also be located on the site.
8. How will the influx of population affect schools and other infrastructure in Lewes?
Human Nature will be building a nursery on the Phoenix, but the data from the County Council shows that falling school rolls means that there is spare capacity in the existing local schools for the children who will be living at the Phoenix. The Phoenix will generate £7m through the Community Infrastructure Levy, some of which will be invested in local schools to fund the services required. With respect to GP services and dentists, the scheme will be providing the new Health Centre for the town, which will accommodate the growing Foundry Healthcare practice and the existing North Street Dentist practice.
9. What is the parking and mobility strategy for the Phoenix?
The Phoenix will be a walkable, low-traffic neighbourhood. This means that space normally used for on-street parking and private driveways will instead be used for public squares, gardens and community buildings, resulting in cleaner air, and streets safe for walking, wheeling, cycling and for children to play in. With many amenities provided on site, and new routes to the centre of town and the bridge linking to Malling and the retail park across the river, those living on the Phoenix will be able to walk or cycle to meet most daily needs.
A Co-Mobility Hub, at the southern tip of the site on the Causeway, will keep traffic out of the Phoenix and off the one-way system around Lewes. Although there will be on-street Blue Badge parking and drop-off spaces along North Street, Phoenix Place and at the new Health Centre, the majority of vehicles will park in one of the 313 spaces in the Hub, with priority given to Blue Badge holders and residents who need a vehicle for work as well as for those visiting the town.
Our modelling has shown that the parking to be provided will meet the future requirements of the new neighbourhood as well as the visitors to the town. In addition, there will be over 2,200 secure cycle parking spaces to support the planned shift away from the private car to cycling as well as walking and wheeling as the preferred modes of movement for residents and workers in the new neighbourhood.
Research by transport consultants WSP has found a strong appetite for this way of living, particularly among younger generations. Various studies also point to wide support for car clubs, when efficient and affordable. The impact that sharing vehicles can have is huge: for example, one club car replaces 20 private vehicles
, and can save up to £3,500 a year for those who drive less than 8,000 miles per year. We know from the 2021 census data that over 40% of people living in central Lewes already do without ownership of a car or van.
10. How are you ensuring the neighbourhood will remain accessible?
The Phoenix has been designed as an inclusive and accessible environment to allow all users to enjoy it with confidence, dignity and independence. Public spaces will be designed with an emphasis on easy orientation, good legibility and clear routes through the site for all users. Human Nature is working with local specialist groups including Lewes Area Access Group to address the needs of everyone including wheelchair and rollator users, guide dog assisted, cane users and those with visual impairments.
The new homes proposed across the site will exceed national requirements for accessibility. Lift access will be provided for the majority of homes above ground floor, exceeding the requirements of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) for Accessible & Adaptable dwellings and Wheelchair Accessible dwellings. Blue Badge holders will be able to park near their homes and priority will be given in the Co-Mobility Hub to users of the Health Centre, as well as having blue badge parking in the Health Centre car park. All new public buildings will be fully accessible and meet the requirements of the Equality Act.
11. Why are you delivering a Health Hub?
Human Nature is delivering a new state-of-the-art Health Centre on request of the NHS and Foundry Healthcare. The Health Centre will not only enable services to be transferred from existing buildings that are not fit for purpose, but will enable further service development and space for integration with mental health, community services, and the voluntary sector. The new building, which is fully accessible to people with disabilities, will provide additional capacity required to meet the existing needs of the local population and the anticipated additional growth from the proposed development.
The Health Centre is a condition of the sale of the land owned by Lewes District Council and will be built in the early stage of the development. The building, which is being designed by leading architects Mole, includes space for GP consultation rooms, small procedure treatment rooms, pharmacy, mental health services and a dentist, based on Foundry’s brief, which is designed to meet the needs of a new generation of services. The building will be in a prominent and easy to access location on North Street, between Brook Street and Spring Gardens, 80 metres from a new Co-Mobility Hub with car parking, or a few minutes walk from the High Street. Ambulance, paramedic and Blue Badge parking for people with disabilities will be provided on the site, with drop off and pick up parking spaces next to the building.
12. How will you minimise the impact of construction traffic on the surrounding areas and the impact of traffic on the existing road network?
Human Nature will create a new junction access to the site directly from the Phoenix Causeway, for construction traffic only, keeping vehicles off the one-way system, Brook Street and North Street. Once the neighbourhood is complete, it will become the entrance to the Co-Mobility Hub.
Furthermore, the modern methods of construction reduce traffic movements by up to 80%. The on-site manufacture of components, such as timber, will reduce heavy-vehicle traffic even further. Human Nature’s transport consultants have shown, through detailed modelling, that the number of car trips generated by the new neighbourhood will not have any significant impact on existing streets and junctions in the town.
13. How is the project funded?
Human Nature and its local investors have funded the land acquisition and the current programme of work on planning, design, engineering. An exemplar development, in terms of social impact and value, innovation in construction, mobility, housing choice, placemaking, public engagement, its use of a brownfield site, and breakthrough boldness in regard to the climate and nature emergencies, the Phoenix correlates strongly with national government policy. It is therefore eligible for funding from Homes England, ethical investors and debt providers, specialist investment for affordable homes and bespoke investment for ventures such as the hotel, energy grid and mobility services.
14. What is meant by ‘affordable housing’?
The Phoenix will provide accommodation that reflects the genuine housing need of Lewes. This means a high number of one and two-bedroom homes, particularly aimed at young people, young families, and older people who are looking to downsize. These types of homes are rare in Lewes – a town where housing supply is not meeting demand, resulting in rising prices, falling school numbers and an ageing population, with younger people moving away.
Housing that is genuinely affordable for local people is key to the success of the Phoenix as a truly inclusive neighbourhood. There will be up to 210 affordable homes, or 30% of the total number.
– First Homes must be discounted by a minimum of 30% against the market value and be sold to first-time buyers, as defined by the government
– Affordable rented housing must be at a level of rent which does not exceed the Local Housing Allowance for the area. The two or three-bedroom homes within this category can be defined as Lewes Low-Cost Housing, a bespoke category of affordable housing introduced by the Lewes Neighbourhood Plan and defined as “the maximum cost affordable on the average Lewes salary”.
Furthermore, those living at the Phoenix will enjoy lower utility bills due to the neighbourhood’s highly efficient homes, which are powered by renewable energy on a data-led grid, saving around 10-20% on utility bills, with heating bills up to 80% lower than in traditional developments. Those who take advantage of the on-site co-mobility services; the community canteen, which serves low-cost seasonal food; and the reuse and repair centres, will see further savings. Read more about this here
15. What is the density of the Phoenix and why are the buildings four and five storeys?
Getting density right is one of the keys to a successful new neighbourhood. The density of the Phoenix will be 95 dwellings per hectare, which according to the government's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), puts it at the lower end of what it calls 'historic town infill' and just below midway in the metric for 'urban villages’. It is lower than the core of historic Lewes, which was built at a time when the population of the UK was at less than a tenth of what it is today.
This is a brownfield site and we intend to use it wisely, removing the need to build on greenfield sites on the edge of town. These suburban estates are very low-density (15-30 dwellings per hectare) and therefore take up a great deal of land. They often lack infrastructure and amenities (such as schools and places to eat), meaning they create a dependency on cars. This increases traffic in nearby towns in a way that the low-traffic Phoenix will not (See What is the parking and mobility strategy for the Phoenix? above). In an age of climate breakdown, scarcity of land and a housing shortage, we must make the best possible use of these increasingly rare and precious sites, housing a wide mix of people well – particularly in a town such as Lewes where the working age population is declining, with very few places for young people and young families to prosper. The Phoenix will have 700 homes, but these are mostly one and two-bedroom apartments.
The buildings on the Phoenix are between four and five storeys, with occasional ‘pop-ups’. Such heights are considered to be human-scale if the streets and other public spaces are well-proportioned – an appropriate and enjoyable size at street level and from afar, and common in towns and cities up and down the country. Our proposals have been subject to a Landscape Visual Impact Assessment, which concludes the development will not harm breathtaking views that contribute to the South Downs National Park’s Special Quality, and will provide some new views to the Downs and the Castle. The architecture is bound by a Design Code (See Will it look like Lewes? below), to ensure coherence across the site and visual connection to the town.
What we are proposing is a diverse, high-quality and textured development, with a carefully articulated roofscape, and abundance of shared space, meaning that the quality of the experience of living, working and visiting here will be pleasant and appealing. The effect of the design code can be seen in the detailed designs byAsh Sakula for what we call, Parcel 1 by Willeys Bridge. Here it can be seen that when progressing to detailed design greater articulation and texture is brought to the buildings.
16. How will the shared areas be managed and maintained over time?
An estate management company, owned by Human Nature, will manage all communal aspects of the neighbourhood and retain ownership of all green infrastructure, public realm, sustainable drainage and flood defences. Tenants and residents of the site will be invited to participate in the running of the company, with a service charge proportioned between residential and commercial units. Public spaces will be protected in perpetuity and any surplus made by the estate management company will be reinvested into community infrastructure.
17. How will you deal with sewage? Is there capacity for a new neighbourhood?
Utilities companies' failures to prevent untreated wastewater from being discharged into our waterways and oceans are predominantly due to archaic sewerage networks whereby surface water drainage and foul (or waste) water are discharged into the same ('combined') sewer. The Phoenix drainage design ensures all onsite combined sewers are replaced with separate surface and foul water drainage systems. Furthermore, the redesigned drainage network for the Phoenix ensures that all surface water runoff from the site is discharged into the river, preventing any additional stress on existing combined sewers offsite. The surface water drainage network for the scheme is characterised by 'sustainable urban drainage features' (SUDs); biodiverse landscaping features which store and clean surface water, thereby reducing flood risk and helping to remove diffuse urban pollutants from the runoff before discharge into the river.
As it was considered inappropriate to treat foul water onsite in an urban environment, the Phoenix will discharge foul water into Southern Water's existing network. Southern Water have confirmed there is sufficient capacity in the network to deal with foul water arising from the Phoenix. Furthermore, the wastewater treatment works, for which it is assumed the foul water from the Phoenix will be treated at, is due to have 'thermal hydrolysis process' plant installed, thereby increasing its capacity to deal with wastewater throughput and manage it more sustainably by using resultant biogas to generate renewable heat and electricity. We hope to reduce water use to no more than 90 litres per person per day, through the use of efficient water fittings and maximising opportunities for water reuse and recycling. This will contribute to significantly reduce wastewater flows from the Phoenix into the sewer system.
18. Will it look like Lewes?
A Design Code has been submitted with our planning application, which has been worked up with the advice of local experts and with detailed reference to the existing Conservation Area Character Appraisal. This Design Code will control the overall character and appearance of the development to deliver consistency and coherence across as each ‘parcel’ of the site is brought forward. It identifies a series of ‘golden threads’, which will create a visual connection to the town – from its famous roofscape to its creative use of materials, patterns and collage – in ways that can be translated to a new kind of neighbourhood fit for the 21st century.
It will do this while bringing much that is new to the town. To make best use of this precious brownfield site, and to build in a way that is viable, environmentally sustainable and promotes shared living, the Phoenix will feature mostly courtyard apartment housing. This means creating new types of homes for the town, taking influence from the most beautiful apartment blocks in UK and Europe, while ensuring they respond to and weave into the surrounding areas. The Phoenix will stitch into and connect to Lewes, taking influence from its existing architecture, economy and its history of independence and freethinking. We’ll be working with some of the best architects in the country to create a place that is not only beautiful, but challenges the current development model in the UK.