Designing for future rural vitality

David Lort-Phillips explains his vision behind revitalising an estate village in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

When our generation took over the family farm in 1969, we also became responsible for the future of an estate village Lawrenny (located in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park) that had fallen into disrepair. But even then, it was clear that if the village was to regain its former vitality as a living rural community, new ideas were needed.

Our vision began to take shape for Lawrenny as a place, given its great resources of woodland and water frontage, where people can ‘live, work and play’, ensuring the village had the critical mass to support economic activity and infrastructure as a post-agricultural community.

Fifty years later, following three statutory development planning exercises plus attendant enquiries, we progressed from original concept to final planning approval for the addition of 39 houses in May 2020.

Our Bristol-based architect Emmett Russell Architects, whose designs for this wonderful village won an international RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) competition, deserves great thanks for delivering plans in which we take great pride.

The RIBA competition achieved the results we were looking for. The practice looked carefully at the past history of the settlement, studied some of the traditional features and curtilages of 18th century buildings.

The result was a design that reflected local vernacular, smart sourcing of local materials, and future-facing sustainability features (energy, water, waste etc) connected to working organic farm ecosystem.

The architects took a brief to, amongst other things:

  • Further enhance the existing settlement with amenity for all, workshop spaces for village based small business and electric vehicle charging points
  • Provide a range of affordable and family homes to meet the local housing needs, fitted with Fibre To Premises broadband
  • Design homes that will be sustainable and incorporate eco-friendly
  • Be an exemplar of best practice.

The RIBA exercise was useful in two respects. Firstly, the winning design achieved support from the Design Council Wales, the body advising the Welsh Assembly on architectural issues, thus countering potential opposition on design grounds.

Secondly, the RIBA process necessarily required close and structured consultation with the community. Members were thus able to express opinion on matters of detail, while at the same time respecting the farming business for the trouble taken to achieve a good result.

Looking at the development in terms of environmental sustainability, we are exceeding building regulations with regards to energy ratings and in particular insulation. This includes a shared array ground source heat pumps provide heating and hot water, and the option to have battery storage linked to solar panels, and smart car chargers.

By securing high-speed fibre broadband and building offices and workshops, we create a compelling message to the market and will hopefully stimulate buyers who are still economically active, to relocate and bring their business with them.

Public amenity-wise, we’ve established CICs (Community Interest Companies), to run the shop, village hall and hostel, in addition to the local pub, cricket and football club.

The houses we retain for long term rent will always be occupied by local people. A key focus for us was to design homes fit for people who wish to live and work here as this is key to securing sustainable rural communities.

The planning process (councils and the National Park Authority) must recognise and support this unique role that rural businesses and living villages working together can fulfil.

Only slowly have policymakers locally and in Cardiff, recognised that the economic needs of village communities in National Park areas are no less and in some cases greater than in non designated areas.

Their role, as a planning authority, too often negates any positive instincts they might have. Wherever communities can demonstrate they have the social capital, i.e people with a record of sensitive development should encourage it. 

What was required to achieve what we have today? Sheer persistence and engaging expert advisors.