Go home to Wayne's world

The Red or Dead designer has an alternative to identikit housing estates, says Julia Kay
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Suburban, mass-market housing has been widely criticised for its identikit appearance – all characterless three-bedroom boxes with a patch of lawn and a garage. But this could be about to change.

Fed up with the "Wimpification and Barrattisation" of Britain, fashion guru Wayne Hemingway and his wife Geraldine have joined with Wimpey Homes to unveil a Utopian blueprint for the future of British housing estates.

The Red or Dead designer is submitting an outline application this week for a massive regeneration scheme at Gateshead on the banks of the Tyne, after being approached by Wimpey. The £70m "new generation" estate scheme on a 40-acre site will comprise nearly 700 one, two and three-bed houses, townhouses and apartments pitched as affordable housing for local people. Prices will start at £55,000, rising to £175,000.

"It's not a PR stunt," says Mr Hemingway. Picture a world: "Better than the Docklands, but costing £55,000 not half a million. But it has to be cost effective as well as making affordable housing exciting to live in."

The spur to the development was the car pundit Jeremy Clarkson. "He'd just written about a [Wimpey] estate at Cambourne, just outside Cambridge, where 10,000 people were living among fake gas lamps, wishing wells and a gallows," says Mr Hemingway. "He loved it. I hated the whole kitschness of seaside touches. The tarted-up boxes planned in tight circles round ponds full of McDonald's wrappers, with grass so sloping the kids couldn't play on it."

Wimpey contacted him about his comments. "I was expecting to be told to stop saying this, as the scheme works fine." But Wimpey had other ideas: "We took on board Hemingway's view that developers offer very little choice," says Wimpey marketing manager Kevin Thubron. "We saw a lucrative opportunity to go in at the grass roots in an area with a lot of potential."

Although Mr Hemingway made his name in the fashion world, he has worked his way into property development. He designed his own home on the South Coast before moving on to redesign the Institute of Directors building – not the famous Nash building at 116 Pall Mall but just down the road at number 123.

With his proposed new development, Gateshead is suddenly becoming fashionable. "Research shows that 72 per cent of people don't want to live on new-build estates," says Mr Hemingway. "They're ugly, com-mon, not conducive to family life. We turned down sites in London Docklands and Manchester because we wanted to work on something that could really make a difference to the wider market – address the desires and budgets of everyday Britain."

What he has designed takes the principles of best practice and goes one further. Every home will be within 400 yards of a major bus route but no buses will come through the estate. "We worked very closely with the planners to create walkways and cut-throughs to facilities outside the periphery," he adds. Cars will be landscaped into hiding places below apartments. Even the bins are at remote, communal recycling points.

Green initiatives include preserving and increasing Tyne-bank mudflats and salt marshes, making all the houses double-glazed and south-facing for warmth, and putting mature plants into parkland now – before development has even begun. "The most desirable places for people to live have always had a private garden and parks in the middle, with play areas and places to sit and talk. But the most important thing for us is price. We can't let green issues stop people being able to afford their own homes."

Wimpey is calling the scheme its model for homes of the future. "It will be safe, refreshing, modern and exciting," says Mr Hemingway. "I have no fear it won't work. And even if it doesn't, people will say we tried."

Mr Hemingway will launch the scheme this week in Newcastle and London. Planning consent is expected within eight weeks and construction will begin on site in spring 2002, with Wimpey expecting to build just over 100 homes each year for six years.


Julia Kay writes for 'Estates Gazette'.