Bembridge on the Isle of Wight is in an idyllic spot.
Surrounded by beaches and natural wonders, it is a village where many aspire to live, but where in the past, many have been prevented from setting down roots.
In 2012, an ambitious ‘neighbourhood planning’ working group was appointed by Bembridge Council. This group working tirelessly for 2.5 years, with the plan going to referendum in July 2014, securing at 92% ‘yes’ vote. Grant funding of £4,000 was secured from Isle of Wight Council and £6,794 from Locality.
The outcomes prove that hard work, combined power and impact of communities and collaboration, although challenging at times can produce wonderful results.
Home to 4,000 people, the small and vibrant village embodies a quintessential community feel. Prior to the neighbourhood plan implementation, affordable housing – which the results of a housing survey showed were desperately needed – was unheard of.
People recognised that to prevent the imposition of large-scale developments and the village falling victim to the culture of the ‘second-home paradise’, action had to be taken.
Over the last five years, a lot of ground has been covered, and the village now has 21 affordable homes.
The mission statement in the plan embodies what residents wanted to see happen in their community:
“To maintain and enhance the unique self contained character of Bembridge village whilst permitting small-scale sustainable growth that is in line with the needs and wishes of the community.”
It was clear that small-scale developments would give the people of Bembridge affordable housing options, ensuring larger scale developments and luxury flats, that wouldn’t serve the community, were kept at bay.
In 2012, the site of the old primary school in Bembridge became vacant, and after a bid for a luxury-flat development was rejected (thanks to the criteria which resulted from the housing needs survey), Vectis Housing Association purchased the site.
Vectis is a local independent business on the Isle of Wight. They were clear that their approach to the development was to be open, transparent and accountable from day one. They collaborated with the community and have built a ‘community asset’, rather than a development that is resented by the local community.
Vectis’ careful engagement with the community, ensured a harmonious collaboration, and the result of this was Sycamore Drive.
Named by local children, Sycamore Drive has 13 affordable dwellings – four discounted market sales and nine social rents.
The success of Sycamore Drive lies in how the community and the developers worked together to ensure these dwellings were in line with the neighbourhood development plan.
Also crucial to its success was the agreement of an inclusive criteria, giving as much opportunity as possible to those with local connections who wished to come and build a life there.
Virtually no negative feedback was received about the development, allocations and sales have been almost exclusively to households with a connection to the village.
The community led the process of regrowth, sharing their views and ideas at a number of drop-in sessions. This also gave people the chance to air concerns and share ideas.
Sycamore Drive has given people, including young families, the opportunity to build a life in a beautiful part of the world, that prior would have been well beyond their scope.
It has been designed to take into account the fluidity of a changing and growing community over a number of years, because it was recognised that the development needed to work for people not only now, and in the future, with more schemes in development.
The next scheme of nine houses is currently being delivered at Forelands Fields. Lessons have been learned from some of the challenges of Sycamore Drive and development is well underway.
In Bembridge, they have not taken the easy route. But quality, affordable housing improves families’ health and wellbeing. It provides the opportunity for diverse, healthy and empowered communities.
A grand opening took place in July 2017 where all stakeholders, partners, local dignitaries, school children and their families were invited to see the development and cut the ribbon to officially open ‘Sycamore Drive’ to Bembridge.
Read the full Bembridge case study here