From the ashes rises the Phoenix – the most sustainable neighbourhood in the UK


The UK’s largest timber home development has been granted planning approval. 

Phoenix East Sussex
Credit: Human Nature
Credit: Human Nature.

Developer Human Nature has won permission to transform the former Phoenix Ironworks industrial site, in Lewes, East Sussex, to a new sustainable riverside neighbourhood.   

The Phoenix development will be mixed use and will include 685 homes (30 per cent affordable), public squares and gardens, play areas, community buildings including a low-cost canteen, a riverside trail and flood defence measures. 

Other features include a data-driven renewable energy system, on-site recycling, waste-management and composting facilities, and an urban farm. 

Circular economy 

Human Nature will use engineered timber in the construction process, much of it locally sourced, which is 100 per cent renewable, with prefabricated cassettes also made from biomaterials such as hemp.  

Existing materials from the site’s industrial past – including cladding, steel trusses, bricks and buttresses – will be salvaged and repurposed or reconstituted.   

Local apprenticeships will also be available and trained on site in modern methods of construction. 

From the ashes  

Credit: Human Nature.

The 7.9-ha brownfield site had once been a place of heavy industry but has stood in ruin for about 20 years. It also suffered fire in 2014 

The Phoenix has been master planned by Human Nature’s in-house design team, regenerative design agency Periscope, Ash Sakula architects, and Kathryn Firth, director of master planning and urban design at Arup 

When complete, it will be the most sustainable neighbourhood in the country, according to Human Nature, and be available to a mixed-income market. 

The Lewes-based company was founded by former Greenpeace directors Michael Manolson and Jonathan Smales. 

Smales said: “The current mainstream model of development is catastrophic, baking in deeply unsustainable fabric, infrastructure and transport, fuelling the climate and nature crises; it also creates social divisions and exacerbates loneliness.  

“We aim to show that living sustainably can be a joy, not an exercise in self-denial, made far easier by the design of neighbourhoods.  

“We’re working with an amazing team, bringing together best practices in sustainable design, urbanism and construction to provide a new breakthrough model with the Phoenix.   

“Our focus on radically improving environmental and social impacts through the power of placemaking is uncommon in 21st Century Britain.  

“But the result won’t feel unfamiliar, rather a return to traditions we’ve forgotten: a place of elegantly designed buildings made using local materials, streets safe for children to play in, with most daily needs met within a short walk and where it’s easy to meet and socialise with your neighbours.” 

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