Mae, Ash Sakula and Mole working on 685-home Phoenix project in East Sussex

Image 1

Source: Image courtesy of Human Nature and Periscope / Ash Sakula Architects.

The Phoenix site

Planning permission has been granted for a 685-home scheme in East Sussex which will be the UK’s largest timber neighbourhood.

The Phoenix project has been developed and masterplanned by Human Nature, which was founded by former Greenpeace directors Michael Manolson and Jonathan Smales.

The firm has worked up plans for the site with regenerative design agency Periscope, Arup’s director of masterplanning and urban design Kathryn Firth and architects Ash Sakula, Mole and Mae.

South Downs National Park’s planning committee approved detailed plans for the first 44 homes in the scheme this morning.

Outline permission was also granted for 641 further homes, 3,500sq m of workspace, a health centre, community space, a restaurant, a bar, retail space, a nursery, an energy centre, a new footbridge over the river Ouse, a riverside walkway and areas of public realm.

The development sits within the South Downs National Park and is anticipated to include 30% affordable housing. 

Human Nature chief executive Jonathan Smale said “The current mainstream model of development is catastrophic, baking in deeply unsustainable fabric, infrastructure and transport, fuelling the climate and nature crises; it also creates social divisions and exacerbates loneliness.

> Also read: The Phoenix, Lewes: ‘This is how we will have to build in the future’

“We aim to show that living sustainably can be a joy, not an exercise in self-denial, made far easier by the design of neighbourhoods. We’re working with an amazing team, bringing together best practices in sustainable design, urbanism and construction to provide a new breakthrough model with the Phoenix.

“Our focus on radically improving environmental and social impacts through the power of placemaking is uncommon in 21st-century Britain. But the result won’t feel unfamiliar, rather a return to traditions we’ve forgotten: a place of elegantly designed buildings made using local materials, streets safe for children to play in, with most daily needs met within a short walk and where it’s easy to meet and socialise with your neighbours.”


Source: Image courtesy of Human Nature and Periscope. Sketch by Carlos Penálver.

The Phoenix’s courtyard gardens

The masterplan design seeks to emphasise connections and interaction in shared spaces, and incorporates a co-mobility hub that includes electric car share, electric bike service, and a shuttle bus facility, promoting alternatives to private vehicle ownership and streets for walking and cycling.

Parcel 1, designed by Ash Sakula Architects, integrates homes with play areas, communal gardens, and a shared cycle store to encourage shared living.

A central courtyard designed with Periscope provides a space for residents to interact, incorporating a rain garden for flood protection.

The broader plan seeks to incorporate climate-progressive measures such as a data-driven renewable energy system, on-site recycling, waste management, composting facilities, and an urban farming and community gardening strategy.

The project proposes to involve local apprenticeships in modern construction methods and envisages salvaging materials from the site’s industrial past where possible.

The Phoenix team engaged with local residents, community groups, and businesses prior to the decision, refining the plan through three rounds of consultation since the initial application in early 2023.

The planning committee voted for a resolution to grant planning permission, subject to section 106 agreements and resolution of outstanding issues with National Highways.