Bridging the brownfield

The Bridge is a £400M scheme that aims to turn a 107 hectare brownfield site into a "culturally vibrant" new community. John Haven describes the ambitious Dartford development

A t last year's Thames Gateway Forum, David Milliband, then minister for communities and local government, explained the government's vision of "an innovation gateway that is economically viable, socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and culturally vibrant". He said that if this vision was to become reality, it must be driven by a sharp strategic focus with "clarity from government, but also energy from the frontline".

At this year's Thames Gateway Forum, visitors will see how this frontline energy has been harnessed at Dartford, where a joint venture partnership between ProLogis Developments and Dartford Borough Council is masterminding the regeneration of The Bridge, a 107 hectare brownfield site. The Bridge is a £400M project that aims to create a new community - a place where people can live, work and spend their leisure time locally. It is the first major mixed-use development to start on site since the launch of Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future in 2003.

One of the main objectives behind The Bridge is a determination to develop knowledge-based industries for Dartford. Both ProLogis and the council realise that this aspiration is not likely to be realised in the short term - it is more likely to be a process of gradual evolution.

They also realise that this transformation is more likely to happen if support structures for aspiring entrepreneurs are put in place. And the council and ProLogis recognise the growing importance of green issues for office occupiers.

These two aspects of the sustainability issue have been central to the thinking behind the commercial elements of The Bridge. And the joint venture partners believe they will be a crucial factor in creating many of the 7,500 new jobs that the development is expected to bring to Dartford.

ProLogis has recently submitted a planning application for 28,700m2 of Grade A offices at The Bridge. Comprising five buildings ranging from 1,980m2 to 11,710m2, the offices will form the first phase of the 46,450m2 office park planned for the development.

Designed to achieve a minimum Building Research Establishment (BRE) Environmental Assessment Method very-good rating, each building has been designed to include, for example, low-energy systems, water reduction measures and the maximum use of natural daylight. However, the buildings have been designed flexibly so, if a future occupier chooses to include further environmentally friendly features, there is plenty of scope to increase the green specification.

Rainwater harvesting, grey-water recycling, green roofs and renewable energy sources such as photo-voltaic cells, wind turbines and solar water heating are all available options. Similarly, mixed mode ventilation systems using as much natural ventilation as possible can also be installed as can an exposed thermal mass for night-time purge free cooling. Occupiers can select recycled materials as well as those included in the BRE Green Guide to Specification and each building can have a sustainable urban drainage system.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Bridge is the careful way in which the natural environment has been protected and integrated into the overall development, 32.4 hectares of which is dedicated to public open space. This approach has been carried through to the office buildings, where occupiers can specify integrated ecological features such as using the on-site lakes for heating or cooling purposes and installing nesting boxes for bats and birds.

Much of the car parking will be undercroft parking to reduce the visual impact of parked cars. However, the council and ProLogis will be strongly advocating green travel. And to meet this aim, the developers are building a dedicated route for the Fastrack public transport system. Fastrack, a Rapid Transit scheme, will run through the centre of The Bridge,

connecting the development with the facilities in Dartford town centre and Bluewater as well as with Ebbsfleet International Station and the existing London-bound rail services at Dartford, Greenhithe and Gravesend.

The Fastrack route at The Bridge will be the second phase of a public transport initiative that was launched in the Dartford and Gravesend area in March. The first route is proving to be a great success and the next phase is expected to be equally popular especially as the Fastrack bus stops on The Bridge route will be equipped with both real-time travel information and CCTV.

Coinciding with the arrival of the first people to live and work on the development, the new Fastrack route at The Bridge will open in spring 2007.

The first commercial building to open at The Bridge will be the Innovation Centre, a 2,787m2 facility that will provide up to 77 small units for start-up and stage-two
companies. The first phase of the 30,472m2 London Science Park.

The operator of the Innovation Centre will offer flexible office or studio space, as well as a range of business support services and, crucially, access to a venture capital fund. Understanding that entrepreneurial success can often depend on timing and contacts, the Innovation Centre operator will also provide appropriate links with universities and research institutes at a national level as well as with initiatives in the Seeda, Eeda and LDA regions.

Talking about the role of the Innovation Centre, Paul Weston, first vice president at ProLogis, explained that its services will be available to everyone who lives at The Bridge as well as to the Innovation Centre occupiers.

"We are aiming to create a community that supports new ideas and encourages initiative. And recognising that many new enterprises are likely to start in peoples' homes, we are keen that everyone at The Bridge has access to the facilities and services that the Innovation Centre will offer. With help and guidance at an early stage, businesses clearly have a much better chance of success," he says.

The principle of sustainable business growth applies not only to advice, contacts and funding but also to actual office or studio space.

Weston says: "Residents who start a business at home can progress to the Innovation Centre. Then, as they expand, they can move their operations onto the Science Park or - if more appropriate - to the Office Park. Wherever a company is in its growth cycle, it will find the right facilities at The Bridge."

Since working at home is a good option for start-up businesses, George Wimpey plc, the developer of the first phase of housing at The Bridge, will be building a number of live/work units close to the Innovation Centre.

Every home at The Bridge will be equipped with a broadband connection. This will allow some employees to work from home, providing an environmental benefits through less travelling.

For more information contact Caroline Melvin on 0117 946 6654

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