Trail-blazing housing and jobs scheme to set the standard for future development

Nature and sustainability are at the heart of a flagship affordable housing and rural business park scheme which the Isle of Wight Council and its partners hope will serve as an exemplar for future development on the Island.

The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership has awarded the council £2.4 million under the government’s ‘Getting Building Fund’ to bring the plans to life.

The scheme includes innovative proposals to provide homes and jobs for local people as part of a sustainable community on the site of the former Branstone Farm Studies Centre, near Arreton, the first phase of which will involve the creation of an expanded Island brewery offer.

The plans represent close collaboration between the public and private sector with Vectis Housing Association, the council’s regeneration team and other local partners working in partnership to deliver the project.

Even though the council is a joint formal applicant, the scheme will be subject to all the usual rigorous processes and policies as with any other application.

Martyn Pearl, chief executive of Vectis Housing Association, which has a long track record in delivering affordable housing, said: “The approach from the outset was to do something special on this site to make it more than just a collection of houses at the edge of a field, but rather a cohesive, vibrant and sustainable locality that is of real and lasting benefit to the local community.”

The housing association formed the ‘Vectis Group’, working with organisations already located at the farm — such as the AONB Partnership and the East Wight Landscape Partnership — to formulate the plans.

They include 42 wholly affordable homes in a mix of two, three and four bed properties as well as a rural business park consisting of 16 units in a courtyard arrangement creating up to 100 new jobs.

The wider masterplan for the site is proposed to include a purpose-built biosphere centre, celebrating the Island’s status as a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve awarded in June last year.

Chris Ashman, the council’s director of regeneration, said: “The ethos that underpins this proposed development is sustainability in its broadest sense — people living and working alongside each other within an environment that values the special character of the landscape.

“The aspiration to bring to life the concept of the biosphere is shared by all the partners involved.”

Through working with stakeholders such as Down to the Coast, Arc Consulting, WightAid and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, development consultant Christopher Scott said they were able to get the best community benefits out of the scheme.

He said: “The mixed-use scheme has been carefully and sympathetically designed to respect the Island’s Unesco Biosphere Reserve designation and includes community growing space and a biodiversity park with new ponds and pools, wildflower meadows, fruit orchards and extended woodland.

“The ambition is for this to become an exemplar development for the Isle of Wight and I think these plans set the stakes very high for future schemes.

“This will be a development where business meets the biosphere and where local housing is provided for local people, all set in a sustainable and green environment where wellbeing and healthy living are at its core.

“This is a project that has been brought about by a joint-venture by utilising local consultants so it’s very much an Isle of Wight community project across the board. This includes companies such as Rainey Petrie Architects, Mayer Brown, Transport Seeds, Arc Consulting and Treecare Isle of Wight.”

Councillor Wayne Whittle, Cabinet member for regeneration and business development, added: “This is a significant opportunity to provide a quality, rural community-based scheme which could trail blaze other schemes and show how they could be developed.”

Meanwhile Island MP, Bob Seely, has welcomed the government investment in the scheme.

He said: “I am delighted that together we have managed to make a strong case to government for this funding. The Branstone project is an exciting one for the Island and will deliver jobs and community housing.

“We now need to take a more long-term approach to modest and sensitive development on the Island that Branstone represents.”

With funding being confirmed, the intention is to start work on site in March 2021.