Case Study: Countesswells, Aberdeen City Council – Place Skills for Housing

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This case study shows a local authority-led masterplanning approach to housing. The Local Development Plans (LDP) named key sites in its strategy for housing growth. Here, the authority’s leadership shaped the quality and expectations of the developments. This approach allowed public and private sector parties to work collaboratively on design, development and delivery.

Project & approach

Countesswells is a development roughly 7km west of Aberdeen city centre that will accommodate a new community of around 7,000 people. The development will include 3,000 residential homes across all markets, two primary schools, an academy built to meet Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) standards, a medical centre with both GP and a dental practice, and a town centre with retail and commercial services.

View of the bike lanes and pedestrian walkways in Countesswells, which link the housing to the main road and greenspaces.
Active travel routes and green-blue infrastructure in Countesswells (Credit: Optimized-Environments).

The Countesswells Development Ltd. (CDL) funding model allowed for significant up-front infrastructure delivery and major landscaping works. Open space resources were created prior to the first residents moving in. The built environment is arranged around a series of green spaces and connected by a network of paths and cycle routes.

Early IT connectivity was crucial. CDL arranged a partnership with a service provider to deliver a completely open network with speeds of over 1Gbps, the fastest in the UK at the time.

Aberdeen City Council developed the masterplanning process with the Local Development Plan 2012 and became the first local authority to adopt an LDP under Scotland’s 2010 planning reforms.

The Countesswells Development Framework and Masterplan guides the planning and delivery of the site. Stewart Milne Homes assembled a multi-disciplinary design team on behalf of the landowners in the area (the Countesswells Consortium). Following Aberdeen City Council’s masterplanning guidance, the design team (led by OPEN) prepared the Framework and Masterplan in collaboration with the City Council’s Strategic Place Planning service. Extensive public engagement took place during the preparation of the Framework, involving residents and neighbouring community councils.

 

Continuity of involvement is important as each masterplan remains a live document with potentially many changing circumstances. This continual evolution of place needs to be carefully managed and the Masterplan team is well placed to address this.

Sandy Beattie, Team Leader (Masterplanning, Design and Conservation) Aberdeen City Council

 

Process and Practice

“Previously many developments in Aberdeen had been opportunistic and reactive to the oil industry,” Sandy Beattie explains. Beattie led the team responsible for co-ordinating the briefing and delivery of this relatively atypical, but highly effective, model.
“Our Masterplan, Design and Conservation Team sits between the Development Management and Policy Teams in Planning… The masterplan team effectively features senior planners for masterplanning, urban design and conservation disciplines supported by planners and technicians. With finite resources and eleven masterplan zones across the City, rather than prepare masterplans, our role is to set the guidance and agree the brief with developers.”

Sandy Beattie points out the key elements of what a masterplan team can provide: “Leadership, in terms of design and placemaking,” and “Structure, to give certainty in delivering.”

“We are involved from the beginning and we control the process all the way through. We agree the parameters of the brief and are presented with a draft. We manage that draft process internally with all the different functions in the council. This ensures that all the different services understand the implications of any design or planning decision. We work with the appointed design team to ensure that the draft masterplan incorporates any advice, views and appropriate amendments. It then goes out to formal consultation both physically and online, the results of which are reported to committee to inform elected members prior to adoption of the masterplan. When the masterplan is finalised and the various planning applications come in, the masterplan team has a directorial role, ensuring compliance.”

What worked well

The Countesswells Masterplan identifies four key themes: context, identity, connectivity and communication. The development has released its first homes to market and will finish with the new town centre development in the next few years, which requires a critical mass of people.

Homes: “25% of affordable homes will be built in-line with the Local Development Plan policy. These homes are integrated within the phasing of the development and designed as part of each relevant character area.”

Community: “The fundamental idea of the whole area is to create this idea of a ‘walkable neighbourhood’ where everything’s connected and allows kids to walk to school, getting away from the practice of a drop-off at the front door. The benefits of this will be seen in years to come in terms of health and wellbeing.”

Site illustration of people walking through a new greenspace to the shops at CountesswellsOptimized-Environments.
Greenspace illustration for Countesswells (Credit: Optimized-Environments).

What were the Challenges

Education: “The first Primary School is consented to and currently underway. We’re working to create a secondary school with the public areas at street level, facing a major urban park. This campus approach would be a first for Aberdeen and Scotland, in contrast to school buildings that have fences around them and that don’t interact very well. (In retrospect) we would have liked to have pushed the education side much quicker by placing a pop-up school earlier in the development.”

Infrastructure: “We would have preferred to put all the infrastructure in first, but housing has to be delivered and sold there initially in order to support the infrastructure.”

Aerial view and site plan of the Countesswells suburban neighbourhood site in Aberdeen, which we exhibited at our LAUDF event on market-led housing.
Plan of Countesswells Masterplan

Further Information

 

About Place Skills for Housing

The right skills are important to making this work. We know there are many motivated professionals who want to lead the way with the right support. We can’t turn everyone into designers – but we can share some of our knowledge and design approaches to help.

The Place Skills for Housing series offers three concise, easy to follow modules on Locating, Briefing and Influencing for Place Quality. Each module includes basic placemaking principles, practical steps and a suite of resources and case studies to help apply the learning. See our full module here.

 

About A&DS Case Studies

Our case studies series shows the benefits of good design in Scotland’s built environment. We highlight the processes behind our built environment as well as the finished result, to grow our collective understanding of good design practice. More of our case studies are available here. We want to grow this resource as much as we can. So if you have a question or comment about our Case Studies series, email us at info@ads.org.uk.

 

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