Case Study

Warners Fields Masterplan

Warners FieldsSector: Built Environment; Arts, entertainment and recreation; Natural Environment
Highlights: Biodiversity, ecological uplift, community engagement, community wellbeing, carbon mitigation
Project owner: Dandara Living
Project start: 2022 – ongoing
Location: Birmingham, UK
Community impacted: Urban
Hazards mitigated: ​ Flooding
Case study provided by: Arcadis with HUW for Dandara Living

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Set on the banks of a re-naturalised River Rea, Warners Fields will bring nature back into the city, creating one of the greenest neighbourhoods in Birmingham. The regeneration masterplan exemplifies how the design and planning of communities, nature and land can align to net-zero pathways. Warners Fields is the next chapter in the story of Birmingham’s Future City Plan.

About the Project

Many local authorities are eager to establish more ambitious requirements for new developments to be net-zero carbon, in line with local climate emergency declarations. Birmingham City Council is one of these. Warners Fields is a largely obsolescent part of the once characterful Victorian industrialisation of Birmingham City Centre, where few historic remnants now remain and with the canalisation of the River Rea at its diminutive core.

Alongside HUW, Arcadis provided landscape and public realm design and ecology services. The proposals present a step change in how we combat climate change, tackling the challenge with a landscape-led, nature-based approach to urban regeneration. Warners Fields Masterplan and Urban Design proposals have showcased collaborative working with the Environment Agency (EA) and the city of Birmingham to remove the canalised nature of the River Rea, naturalising the edge, exposing the value of water and allowing for native vegetation to colonise. The river is recognised as a primary asset and its conveyance and flood management role within the city would be enhanced at Warners Fields.

Dandara Living, which led a hybrid planning application for the development, is bringing forward the future redevelopment opportunity for Warners Fields and the River Rea to exemplify how this can be achieved. It will be one of the greenest neighbourhoods in Birmingham, with the green and blue infrastructure proposals using landscape and river (rather than buildings) as the primary design drivers. The centrepiece of this is the ‘reopening’ and reconnecting of the river to the city and its people.

Before development in the area, the River Rea was a babbling thread of life winding through species-rich grassland. Liberating the river from its Victorian brick channel into an accessible and sensitively bio-engineered and bio-diverse riparian corridor will help to address current climate challenges by reconnecting the river with floodplains, restoring a natural course to slow the flow – in turn, easing flooding – and creating habitats for aquatic and wetland wildlife. With a more sinuous course and shallow, safe, accessible banks, a natural riverbed of gravels, boulders and cobbles will encourage aeration, regulate water speeds, and help the formation of riffles, pools, and beaches.

Development plans also include a masterplan driven by sustainable design principles, where the re-imagined River Rea and sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) will play a fundamental role in climate change adaptation, water, and flood management, and placemaking – supporting a ‘sponge city’ approach that will make Warners Fields a place that is permeable for people, water, and nature.

Additionally, the proposal includes over seven hectares with 1,300 units, including residential and mixed-use units, with ground floor and roof-top amenity space and active frontage along the river. The proposed development will accommodate over 3,200 new residents living within Warners Fields. The delivery of commercial and residential projects is necessary to support investment and job opportunities and to grow the local population and workforce. This is key to the recovery in Birmingham and the wider region following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warners Fields is an integrated part of the community and the city’s cultural legacy, through a design which respects the heritage of the site and its neighbours whilst also being bold and aspirational by setting a precedent for future residential schemes in the Rea Valley Urban Quarter.

Intended Outcomes

Social

Engaging the public was an integral part of the design journey. This ensured that the community was brought alongside the planning process as it developed. The benefits from improved resilience that will be delivered through the Warners Fields project will reach users and people far beyond the new community alone.

Following a health impact assessment, the baseline analysis indicates that Birmingham’s population has generally poorer health compared to regional and national averages, indicating that there is a strong requirement to promote development which will support health and wellbeing. The Warners Fields Masterplan and Urban Design strategy offers the delivery of increased open space, landscape, and green infrastructure to maximise opportunities for positive lifestyle choices. The development and spaces cater for all ages and abilities and provide a coherent approach to ensure that all residents have the opportunity for healthier and happier lives.

Walking and cycling routes have been given prominence, with segregated routes alongside the streets and greenways with most homes located close to a principal cycle route, providing opportunities for healthy choices and behaviours. The development also provides space and opportunity for access to sports, social interaction, and community cohesion through increased contact with nature. This includes a range of environments for children’s informal and natural play. The inclusive design also provides access to community urban farming, creates a low-pollution environment, and incorporates climate change adaptation elements.

Public realm improvements and nature recovery proposals will be delivered that increase pedestrian permeability and access to the River Rea’s blue infrastructure, whilst also substantially enhancing the provision of open space, planting and biodiversity. This maximises the opportunity for local regeneration and economic development.

Environmental

The environmental outcomes of the project are multifaceted. Warners Fields Development will re-activate the River Rea by de-canalising the river channel for the first time in over 100 years. This will create a new, green riparian spine to the development, re-naturalising the river’s edge to support flood mitigation and increased habitat creation, most notably at the proposed central public river space, Apollo Gardens.

Key outcomes will include the proposed two-fold drainage strategy to attenuate surface water discharge to within allowable rates whilst providing measures to improve the quality of runoff with the use of SuDS. The SuDS path will capture 2.4 hectares of impermeable run-off through bioswales to sub-surface storage tanks, prior to controlled release into the rewilded River Rea at 5 litres per second per hectare, totalling a combined attenuation volume of 1,525 m³.

In consultation with the EA, ‘daylighting’ the River Rea (re-opening the river from its current culvert) and re-naturalising it as the development’s ‘Blue Spine’ creates a new riparian corridor that will reduce flood risk and improve surface water management by increasing local capacity and attenuation, addressed through adaptive landscape design.

The development has adopted principles which support the efficient use of and consider how the reuse, recycling and recovery of materials can be incorporated into the design to ultimately reduce the quantities of waste sent to landfill. Waste reduction is addressed as part of the project sustainability agenda throughout the design process, by the application of principles detailed within the WRAP guidance ‘Designing out Waste: A design team guide for Buildings’.

The masterplan commits to retaining and enhancing the sparse existing but valuable habitats within the site, providing improved diversity across the site and better connectivity between valuable habitats, achieving over 1,162% Biodiversity Net Gain through proposals including urban trees, riparian and marginal habitats, green roofs, green walls and bioswales. In addition, a length of 275m of the River Rea will be rewilded.

There will be an estimated reduction in the local ambient temperature of around 3°c as a result of nature-based solutions, shade from urban tree planting and the cooling effect of the slowed flow rate and broader running channel of the River Rea.

Economic

Construction of the proposed development is likely to generate significant economic impacts, generating an annual £15.3 million in resident expenditure on retail and leisure-related goods and services, supporting 85 jobs in these sectors, and over 600 fixed-term employment opportunities on-site and in the wider West Midlands.

This will contribute a total net additional £21.6 million gross value added to the economic output of the West Midlands economy annually, of which £17.1 million will be concentrated in Birmingham; and will generate £2.2 million per annum in Council Tax payments and £350,000 per annum in Business Rates (an uplift of £260,000 in business rates compared with current uses) for collection by Birmingham City Council, boosting public revenues and contributing towards delivering vital services within the local and wider impact areas.

How has carbon mitigation been integrated?

Warners Fields mitigates the urban heat island effect by increasing tree canopy (230 proposed trees) to help reduce the need for heating and cooling. These trees have the potential to store over 200,000 kg of CO2 at maturity, sequestering between 1,250 to 5,000+ kg of CO₂ per year as the trees mature, and reducing PM10 and PM2.5 air pollution emissions by around 10% locally.

Additionally, Warners Fields enables and promotes low-carbon transport through low-car dependence, by providing easy access to public transport and a walkable and cyclable public realm that promotes health & wellbeing.

Warners Fields aligns with Birmingham’s Biophilic City Declaration in 2014, the Birmingham City Council Climate Change Emergency – Net Zero by 2030 and Our Future City Plan 2040, including City of Nature.


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