Saturday, 6 September 2008

Step forward the Cycle Houses

All this Chocolate Factory fracas with George Ferguson started back in May when I dared to question his pet project by asking "what are cycle houses?". Well, it seems that at last we have an answer.

The developer, Squarepeg, have suddenly realised that some naive souls might have taken the previously published sketches (e.g. below) as indicative of the design of the cycle houses. Oh dear, how simple minded the common people are.

So "to put the record straight" they have produced some new sketches, with a lot more green on them. Now, don't be foolish and think these are "definitive designs" or anything like that, will you. They are just to "illustrate the idea" of the cycle houses, and can be changed willy-nilly any time Squarepeg feel like it. That's how public consultation works these days, apparently.

The first of the new sketches (above) shows a section through the 4 storey cycle house showing the ground floor garage (although they have somehow neglected to name this) and access from the 2nd floor cycle store to the Path, based on the 4 metres of clearance that will exist between the majority of the houses and tarmac path edge. One can see that the 2nd storey floor is about 2 metres above the Path level, so a "bridge" linking the two would have a slope of at least 1 in 2, or 50%.

Now a 50% slope is way too steep for a ramp (as shown in all their previous sketches and as described in their publicity as "a seam-free sloping pathway" ), so they've had to settle for steps, about 10 of them to conform to the building regulations. So our intrepid cyclist, returning from the supermarket with panniers (or even a trailer) filled with groceries, is expected to manoeuvre her heavily laden bicycle up a flight of 10 steps to reach the bicycle store.

Or she might just nip round via the parallel street to the other side of the house and have a level access into the integral garage.

So there we have it, a cycle house is a standard 3 bed family house with vehicular and bicycle access from the street where the generously proportioned garage will provide ample car and cycle storage, but with the option of nipping out the back door directly to the local path if you're walking somewhere. Undoubtedly a "groundbreaking" concept and "a world first" as George Ferguson so modestly proclaimed back in May.

(for a follow up post click here)


Spectator said...

They must take us for complete mugs!!!

Glenn Vowles said...

Quite a lot of car parking involved in this 'cycle' development too!! Why not go for it and have low car or no car plans?? Now that would be more innovative.

Anonymous said...

'Or she might just nip round via the parallel street to the other side of the house and have a level access into the integral garage.'

She (or he!) more likely will get in the car and drive there.

Our red trousered philanthropist needs a careful eye on his activities, as he seems to love dressing up his speculating in the clothes of social responsibility.

Martyn Whitelock said...

Chris - I may well have been using irony in my interpretation of the architectural plans. If your references are aimed at me, I take great offence. More so, steady on with that 'common people' attitude - it’s a sure way of loosing respect!

Regards the ‘sketch’ above; a five year old could have done better! I’m NOT using irony here.

Chris Hutt said...

Martyn, I was mocking the attitude of Squarepeg. I think you may be confusing irony with sarcasm, as many people do these days.

Spectator said...

I'm common as muck I am...

Whether or not I'm simple minded, I'll leave up to you to decide!

Dona Qixota said...

Chris Hutt wrote: "The developer, Squarepeg, have suddenly realised that some naive souls might have taken the previously published sketches as indicative of the design of the cycle houses. Oh dear, how simple minded the common people are."


In some cultures "the simple man" is a compliment, btw.

However, I noticed on the Yahoo Easton noticeboard that Squarepeg actually DID tell people who sent in their views, to take the sketches as showing what was planned.

It is notable that the "Have your Say" process on the developers' website was not open to public scrutiny and debate, with residents having no option but to take the trouble to post their comments and Squarepeg's response onto other forums in order to permit public discussion.

Caroline helpfully posted up her particular query and Squarepeg's response:

"Copy of my enquiry and their response for you information. What d'ya all think?"

Jenny Gee from Squarepeg responded:

"....West side houses

....The houses to the west are three storeys on both sides with a lower area as part of the top storey is a terrace, height 6,5m to 9.5m top of roof above cycle path …. These houses are as the cycle house image.

Hope this explains the thinking - please get back to me if you have any other questions."

Yes indeed, "please get back to ME" ....err we'd really rather you didn't discuss this amongst yourselves!!!!

Chris Hutt said...

Squarepeg also issued a press release about the cycle houses specifically saying that "features will include seam-free sloping pathways leading from the cycle path to the front door" - seam free sloping pathways, otherwise known as STEPS!

Here's a Times article to confirm that.

mousewife said...

I see why Mrs Palin gives George the Willies - see Saturday's By George in the BEP - but not why her popularity baffles him. Those stupid Americans love her for bearing down on big money and corruption.

simple soul said...

Who are Squarepeg anyway? If it were a decent company wanting to build tower blocks on the bike path, wouldn't there be a clear public identity with reports and accounts we could all check, rather than hiding behind this silly name? Small businesses and private individuals are usually pretty open about who they are when they make planning applications, so why should these big developers, Merchant Venturers, architects, and the like, have the advantage of secrecy? Big planning decisions are all about money, and this smacks of setting up a Swiss bank account for the anonymous beneficiaries of the planning process. Just asking, you understand, not alleging anything.

Martyn Whitelock said...

Actually the work appears to have started! Has anyone noticed the pruning near the Chocolate Factory as evidenced by image No.19 on my record of some of the trees and hedgerows along the path? Are they 'tidying-up' the area to make it more appealing for a sell-off ? All surplus public sector land needs to be considered (and I believe offered for sale to public bodies) prior to being sold into private ownership.

See also image No.20, the Hawthorn which characterises railway sidings can also be protected under a TPO, that's if you can get a tree officer at BCC to apply one! Good luck!!!

Ok, some will argue they need pruning from the safety issue but others enjoy their natural archway, particularly the quality of light and shade they offer. I acknowledge the Council needs to strike a balance between public amenity and good management (LOL!) but their municipal mentality is destroying our environment, let alone democracy!

However, the public should not have to campaign, justify and work so hard to preserve trees which the Council has a legal duty to do themselves! There is the growing opinion amongst other campaigners that the Council fear the bureaucracy associated with TPOs more than protecting the environment. What a sad state of affairs!

David Hembrow said...

You've done some very good investigative work there. However, I'm unsure what was supposed to be such "a world first" about these houses in the first place.

Apart from a brief period of history when the wrong government got into control, houses built here (the Netherlands) have by law had to include secure cycle parking for a very long time. When we were house hunting we never came across a house which didn't have cycle storage.

Of course they also are generally near a cycle path as it's pretty difficult to be far from a cycle path.

Chris Hutt said...

David, would I be right in thinking that it would be unheard of to have cycle storage that can only be reached by hauling a bike (and shopping, kids, trailer, etc) up a flight of steps?

David Hembrow said...


Well, we looked at a lot of houses when we were getting ready to buy here, and I've never seen it.

Between 2003 and the start of this year, some houses apparently were built with their only storage being down stairs into a basement. This very obvious drop in standards was very strongly criticised.

Despite cycle parking not being compulsory for those few years, I think most of the housing built still had it.

It's a normal part of what people expect when they go to buy a home.

Martyn Whitelock said...

The more I think about this development, the more it annoys me:
1. The invasion of public space: as a seasoned path user I do not wish the path to be urbanised in this way, towered over by private residences as is now the experience around most of the dockside.
2. Concept: would the residents actually use these homes for the function they are designed for or would there be another influx of trendy property lifestylers?
3. Sustainability: our society (and particularly the Greenbank community) doesn’t need cash guzzling corporate developers as has been demonstrated with the self-build at St Werburghs.
4. Style of housing: clearly they are capitalising on the limited space by building high. This would block the southerly light to the houses and courtyard behind as well as further obscuring our view of the cemetery.

The best solution would be to turn the whole site into a park (sorry architectural historians), especially since Packers Field is now a municipal sports track and car park! The area would really benefit from a socially inclusive open space since most of the surrounding parks are socially exclusive, for various reasons.

David Hembrow said...

I'd quite like to challenge what Glenn said a few postings ago:

> Quite a lot of car parking involved
> in this 'cycle' development too!! Why
> not go for it and have low car or no
> car plans?? Now that would be more
> innovative.

In principal, I agree. I certainly agree with the aim of reducing car dependence. However, realistically I think that the UK's existing restrictive ways of providing spaces for cars on new developments are already causing problems.

Because people own more than one car per household you end up with streets that look like this new housing estate in Cambridge rather than like this new estate in Assen.

By following the simple idea of trying to stop people having anywhere to put the cars there ends up being a mess, and not a mess which is pleasant to cycle, either.

On the other hand, over here what is done is to provide adequate car storage (there's room for three per house in this case, I think) but also provide such attractive cycle facilities that bike usage continues to grow while car ownership is dropping relatively to the UK. It also avoids another potential cause of tension between neighbours not to cause conflict over parking.

BTW, the houses in the first Assen clip above could IMO quite reasonably be described as "cycle houses". They have bike storage at the front on the ground floor and they open out onto a bike path which by going in direction of the camera takes you to the primary school while going in the opposite direction takes you directly to the centre of the city.

However, they're not hyped in this way. They're just sold as houses, as are the other 6000 on this estate, and any number of others around the country, all of which just happen to be nice and convenient for cycling to the city or anywhere else.

This is why I think planners from the UK really need to take a good look over here. All these things that they think they've newly invented have already been done - and generally done better.

Glenn Vowles said...

Lots of really interesting comments from David Hembrow. We certainly could do worse than look to Netherlands for ideas and inspiration I agree. No doubt there are other countries to learn from too.

David said '...over here what is done is to provide adequate car storage...'. If 'adequate car storage' can be shown to be sustainable on into the future then I'm happy - but can this be shown?? Doesn't a sustainable future mean a low car future, include growing numbers of car-free developments, on grounds of desirability, necessity and inevitability (

What do people think we can learn from UK developments like BedZED, a low car development that includes a car club...??

David Hembrow said...


I think you need to see the "car space" as serving a social function. If it avoids friction between neighbours and makes the area look nicer, that is in itself valuable. If it avoids cluttering up the roads and pavements with cars then it also makes walking and cycling more attractive.

As I pointed out on here a few days ago, the car ownership rate in the UK has overtaken that of the Netherlands. This has happened despite cars being less affordable in the UK, despite parking being more restricted around homes and much more expensive at destinations in the UK, and despite the congestion charge (there isn't one here, and I don't think anyone wants one either).

The reason for this is that it's so much more pleasant to do without a car here, while British people tend to think a car is a necessity. It's a carrot approach more than a stick, which has been much more successful and has resulted in a consensus that this is a good thing and no motorist backlash.

Having somewhere to park a car doesn't in itself make people want to own a car.

I think that developments like BedZED (and it's equivalents in other countries including this one) are very worthy and demonstrate principles very well, but the 82 homes are not really achieving very much beyond a demonstration.

What's needed is to change the way that everyone lives.

Glenn Vowles said...

David, I have always seen 'car space' as serving a social function. Cant see where you got the idea that I dont. I'm a car owner and driver myself (albeit very low mileage).

Suitable 'carrots' presumeably are:
high quality, reasonably priced and highly available and accessible public transport; more localised development patterns to minimise transport needed; widely available sustainable transport infrastructure such as good quality cyclepaths, light rail systems...I've long campaigned for these!

David Hembrow said...

Sorry Glenn, I didn't mean to make out that you saw it any differently.

I also have a car, as it happens. Not that it's gone anywhere at all in a year, so it needs a new battery, MOT etc.

There's public transport here, but it makes for only a small percentage of total journeys. I think that's the case everywhere to be honest.

Where it is used, it's often in conjunction with a bike.

PT is OK over long distances, but I have to say I find it a bit hopeless for short journeys. When your journey is from A to B at T:TT, buses offer C to D at T:TT + as long as it would have taken to cycle. I've taken a bus once in the last year. I think many people find the same problem.

Cycling, on the other hand, is a very large part of the picture here because it's so convenient. And of course, it's rather more 'green' than a bus or light rail so surely much more worthwhile to encourage.

So, I'd say the most important carrot to get people out of cars is actually to make cycling into a pleasant experience, and yes that means decent cycle paths.

Localisation of developments is also something done well here, which I'm going to blog about when I get the information together. There are no out of town supermarkets and everyone has a perfectly good place to get their everyday shopping within a short walk or cycle. Similarly, primary schools are within reach by bike or foot.

Secondary schools are remarkably spread out, but by the time kids are 11/12 they're expected to be able to ride distances on their own, so catchment areas are up to 20 km in radius. They all cycle as there are no school buses due to lack of demand. The cycling infrastructure again comes into its own here. It's got to feel really safe and it's got to be efficient for the kids to make good use of it.

Chris Hutt said...

David, that graph showing modal split in the Netherlands is very interesting. I'd like to use it at some stage. Can you let me know it's origins?

For Glenn and others - David and I have had long debates about the applicability of the Dutch model (no, not that type) to the UK. While I acknowledge the excellence of Dutch cycle provision, I'm not convinced that it can be imported to the UK with our different culture.

Besides which it would take decades to implement and cost a fortune. We need shorter term and more cost effective measures to expand cycling from its generally low base in the UK.

David Hembrow said...

The figures are from a a publication by the Dutch cycling experts group, the Fietsberaad. You'll find it here.

You could have found it on my articles page, where I've been collecting links to useful articles.

As well as the figures, it contains some really lovely photos. Note that figures about expenditure here are always talking about capital spent on new cycle paths, and not on maintenance, cycle training, bike hire schemes etc. Also, an enormous amount of extra funding comes from the way they piggy back on other sources of funding. This can be considerably more than the amount that's publicised, but makes finding useful comparable figures rather difficult.

It is true that a proper bicycle policy costs money and takes time. The key is to actually make a start, which is what the Dutch did back in the 1970s. The longer that the UK delays taking cycling seriously, the later they'll make a start, and the more the cycling culture will have vanished in the mean time.

However, there is no real alternative. Everywhere that cycling has become big has followed the Dutch model. There are no counter-examples. How successful different efforts have been is proportional to the quality of what's done, and that's more or less proportional to what is spent on it. That applies inside this country as well as outside.

The money isn't really a big deal. Only a fraction of the UK's transport budget would be required.

People keep talking about this different culture, but the only difference I see is that people mostly do cycle here and mostly don't in the UK.

There is a desperate lack of understanding about the Dutch amongst British cyclists. I assure you it's not just about utility cycling or getting kids on bikes. There are also more racers, MTBers, tourers, recumbent riders, unicyclists.

By moving here you find there's just more of everything to do with cycling. No bad news at all. You must come and see for yourself.

Martyn Whitelock said...

What really annoys me is that we have a perfectly good model for sustainable housing - the EcoHome at the Create Centre. What's the point of a showhome if it isn't put into reality? Does anyone know if more than ONE of these buildings actually exists in this country or is its sole purpose to employ people at the Create Centre?

If the chocolate Factory site has to be developed for housing, wouldn't a clutch of these be far preferable to a monstrous 'green' tower block?