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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February 2005, 13:09 GMT
'My ideal sustainable community'
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

As the government sets out its ideas on moving forward with its sustainable communities plan at a summit in Manchester, groups with a stake in the process explain their visions of the government's latest buzzword.


A sustainable community is one that delivers a high quality of life, now and in the long-term, in a way that takes account of both the needs of everybody in the community but also their impact on the rest of the world.

BedZED  housing, copyright: Bill Dunster architects
Energy-efficient housing is a key part of the BedZED project

It means people having both the physical infrastructure - the homes, the public transport, the schools and so on - but also the means of having a social and economic infrastructure and access to green spaces.

But they should be developed in a way which, both in terms of their construction and how people live there, means that people are only using their fair share of the planet's resources.

For me a classic example of a successful sustainable community is the BedZED development in south London.

It is a small, mixed-use community that has been developed with very energy-efficient housing with access to social facilities, public transport and so on.

But it is a very small example, what we need to do now is scale it up in places like the Thames Gateway.


We have a vision as an organisation which is about communities which are cleaner, safer and greener and where people respect the local and global environment.

A sustainable community for us is something that connects together people, the places where they live and the prosperity of that locality.

Groundwork project team, copyright: Groundwork
Groundwork encourages people to improve their own environment

There are building blocks for sustainable communities all around. I think you can see elements in all sorts of different places.

There are lots of community projects going on, people have really bought into the message and feel that change is possible and within their own grasp.

Whether there's any single idealised version of a sustainable community that everybody's working towards, that's obviously a bit more debatable but there's certainly elements of it happening already.

The task is to try and connect more of these things together so that all of those agencies and organisations whose job is to fund this work.


What we see as fundamental to a sustainable community would be what we term an "inclusive community"; that is one where disabled people within that community have easy access to essential services and equal opportunities for employment.

Homes designed to the "Lifetime" standard are wheelchair-accessible
We support the principle of "lifetime homes" which is housing designed to be easily adapted as people's needs change. That in itself will reduce the demand on resources because they'll require less materials and land to adapt the property.

So, for example, if the entrance is level than you don't need to take up more space by having to build a ramp to gain wheelchair access to it.

The Mayor of London's plan actually specifies that all new housing should be designed to the "lifetime" standard. And the government is committed to review building regulations which would perhaps see the introduction of the "lifetime" standard but that is some time away yet.

It could be achievable, it's just a case of greater priority being placed on the concept of community and the necessity of infrastructure and housing being available to everyone within that community.

There is a housing crisis at the moment where 300,000 disabled households are looking for somewhere to live and there isn't really much in the pipeline that will address that.


A sustainable community manages to meet people's needs for housing and employment and services as well as other things which go towards the quality of life like culture and films and recreation.

But it does so in a way which minimises the impact on the environment particularly long-term.

It should be trying to make sure that town and country are completely distinguishable in that you don't have urban sprawl into the countryside.

But it should be inter-related so that people who live in urban areas can see and enjoy and use the countryside

I don't think there's anywhere you could point to and say 'this is the perfect sustainable community'.

One of the problems with this is that the government talks about sustainable communities sometimes as though they are going to be created 'ex nihilo'. But most of the places where the vast majority of people live and will continue to live for the next century are already here, with us.

So it's just as much about managing the existing places we have as it is about creating new ones.

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